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CAAS asks S'pore carriers to review risk of flying over conflict areas after MH17: Lui

Following the MH17 crash, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore is looking into ways to enhance the sharing of information between aviation authorities and airlines, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said in Parliament.

SINGAPORE: A Singapore Airlines (SIA) flight was about 90 km away from the spot where Malaysia Airlines MH17 was shot down in eastern Ukraine, revealed Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew in Parliament on Monday (Aug 4) today, debunking earlier reports that said  SQ351 was within 25 km of the downed Malaysian plane. 

“SIA, as part of its safety assessment process, has proactively avoided overflying certain conflict areas even if the airways were available for use,” he said. For example, in early March, SIA had adjusted its flight routes to avoid the airspace above Crimea, based on its own safety assessments. However, like many airlines plying between Europe and Asia, SIA was flying in the same Ukrainian airspace as MH17 the day the Malaysian Airlines plane was downed on July 17.

This is because SIA was relying on information from the Ukrainian authorities, said Mr Lui.  "Under international law, Ukraine is responsible for putting in place measures to ensure the safe passage of civilian aircraft. Since the Ukrainian authorities continued to allow commercial flights in Dnipropetrovsk FIR above 32,000 feet, no national aviation authorities, no regional aviation bodies, nor ICAO ( the International Civil Aviation Organisation), had provided any advisories to avoid that part of the Ukrainian airspace."

MH17 was reportedly flying at 33,000 feet when it was hit, allegedly by a missile fired from the territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists. “As soon as SIA received news of the incident, they immediately re-routed all their flights to avoid Ukrainian airspace entirely,” said Mr Lui. To get to other parts of Europe, this requires approximately a 30-minute deviation from the most optimal flight route.

However, members of the House still questioned why SIA and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) didn't take more stringent measures. Said Nominated Member of Parliament Eugene Tan: "I find it incongruent that airspace could be opened beyond 32,000 ft, but not below 32,000 ft. I think that's a telltale sign. In June and July there were at least four incidents in which aircraft were shot down over parts of eastern Ukraine. If this information isn't enough to persuade SIA and CAAS that it will be challenging to fly over eastern Ukraine, then I don't know what is."

In response, the Transport Minister said: "It goes to show that 20/20 hindsight is most prescient to those who operate in the sidelines. We just have to make sure that we take these factors into consideration: We look at what other airlines are doing, we look at what other regional authorities, and the warnings that they might issue. So we will have to make the best decisions for ourselves, because if we are to avoid every area with conflict, I think it will be very difficult for us to continue flying to many parts of the world."

ENHANCING AVIATION SECURITY

Following the MH17 tragedy, the CAAS is looking into ways to enhance the sharing of safety and security information among national aviation authorities and airlines. The aviation authority has also requested Singapore carriers review their risk assessment of flight operations over conflict areas, Mr Lui said, and will "participate actively” in the international community’s review of issues facing civilian aircraft operating to, from and over conflict areas.

“As the regulatory authority, the CAAS requires Singapore carriers to put in place a robust flight planning process to ensure the safe operations of flights,” Mr Lui said, responding to questions about how the Government exercises oversight over the carriers in their flight planning. The CAAS also conducts audits and checks on airlines’ compliance with procedural and organisational requirements, he added. 

“The downing of flight MH17 is a horrific tragedy. It should never happen again,” Mr Lui said. “As a nation, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our neighbours and express our deepest sympathies to the families of the victims.”

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