Malaysia Airlines responds to criticism of MH17 flight path

Malaysia Airlines
A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 in Perth, Australia (Wikimedia/Darren Koch). (A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 (Wikimedia/Darren Koch))

Questions are also being raised about Malaysia Airline's choice of route, after it emerged that several other airlines had avoided a flight path via eastern Ukraine for months. These include American airline Delta, Australian carrier Qantas and Hong Kong firm Cathay Pacific.

“With immediate effect, all European flights operated by Malaysia Airlines will be taking alternative routes avoiding the usual route,” a statement from the airline read.

“I find it pretty remarkable that a civil airline company – if this aircraft was on the flight plan – that they are flight-planning over an area like that,” former U.S. National Transportation Safety Board vice-chairman Robert Francis said in an interview.

"MH17’s flight plan was approved by Eurocontrol, who are solely responsible for determining civil aircraft flight paths over European airspace," Malaysia Airlines said in a statement released Friday afternoon. Eurocontrol is the civil aviation authority coordinating all air traffic over most of Europe.

"The route over Ukrainian airspace where the incident occurred is commonly used for Europe to Asia flights," the statement read. "A flight from a different carrier was on the same route at the time of the MH17 incident, as were a number of other flights from other carriers in the days and weeks before."

The airline also pointed to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which sets out guidelines for Eurocontrol. They say that only an area over the Crimean peninsula was designated as troublesome. "At no point did MH17 fly into, or request to fly into, this area. At all times, MH17 was in airspace approved by the ICAO."

A Ukrainian cargo jet was shot out of the sky earlier this week, and a fighter jet operated by the country's military crashed on Wednesday. The Ukrainian government claimed an air-to-air missile took out their fighter plane, which was called "absurd" by a Russian official.

All three incidents happened within 100 kilometers of each other in the skies over eastern Ukraine.

Some airline experts noted the higher fuel cost needed to fly around a more direct flight path, with extra expenses typically passed on to consumers.

Many more airlines have now taken to avoiding the airspace over the border separating Ukraine and Russia since the apparent missile strike of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 over Donetsk. Amongst those are Dutch national carrier KLM, Air France, and German airline Lufthansa.

Malaysia Airlines also noted that the Boeing 777 had received a clean bill of health after 17 years in service. All communications systems on board were functioning, but the pilot did not make a distress call.

Family and friends of those onboard the plane have been asked to contact the airline at +603 7884 1234 in Malaysia, or +31 70 348 7770 in the Netherlands.