Dangerous Airspace? MH-17 requires banning flights through risky sectors

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sinaikorea

The atrocity of MH-17 unfortunately made it clear that the political instability around the world requires vigilance about the insecurity of certain airspace. ICAO is considering what role it should play in issuing such warnings. In the meantime, EASA and the FAA have issued NOTAMS about airspace to avoid. The first paper below asks the question “is that enough”?

On Thursday, November 14, EASA issued the following warning concerning flights considering operations over the Sinai Peninsula:

“Due to ongoing insurgent activity, operators of civil aircraft should be aware of the risk to flight operations safety in the Northern Sinai Governorate of Egypt deriving from possible use of small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and anti-aircraft fire, including shoulder-fired man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS). The threat is considered to represent a significant risk to aviation overflying this area at or below FL260.”

The FAA’s NOTAM Sinai admonition had these words:

“EXERCISE EXTREME CAUTION DURING FLIGHT OPERATIONS DUE TO ONGOING VIOLENCE, UNREST, SECURITY OPERATIONS AND THE RISK TO SAFETY FROM SMALL-ARMS, ROCKET PROPELLED GRENADES, MORTARS, ANTI-AIRCRAFT FIRE AND SHOULDER-FIRED, MAN-PORTABLE AIR DEFENSE SYSTEMS (MANPADS). U.S. OPERATORS MUST REPORT SAFETY AND/OR SECURITY INCIDENTS TO THE FAA AT…”

A couple days later, problems with regard to the Korean Peninsula were described:

“NORTH KOREAN MISSILE LAUNCHES IN THE PYONGYANG FLIGHT INFORMATION REGION (FIR) (ZKKP) U.S. OPERATORS FLYING IN AND AROUND THE PYONGYANG FIR (ZKKP) EAST OF 132 DEGREES EAST LONGITUDE ARE ADVISED THAT NORTH KOREA HAS A HISTORY OF LAUNCHING SHORT-RANGE AND MEDIUM-RANGE BALLISTIC MISSILES WITH NO WARNING. IN MARCH 2014, NORTH KOREA LAUNCHED TWO MEDIUM-RANGE MISSILES. THESE LAUNCHES WERE INTO THE PYONGYANG FIR AND IMPACTED IN THE SEA OF JAPAN BEYOND THE BOUNDARY OF SPECIAL FEDERAL AVIATION REGULATION (SFAR) 79, WHICH PROHIBITS U.S. OPERATORS FROM FLYING IN THE PYONGYANG FIR WEST OF 132 DEGREES EAST LONGITUDE. U.S. OPERATORS ARE ADVISED THAT FUTURE LAUNCHES MAY OCCUR WITH LITTLE OR NO WARNING AND SHOULD USE CAUTION WHEN PLANNING FOR AND OPERATING FDC 4/9749 (KFDC A0017/14) ZZZ

SPECIAL NOTICE … GPS INTERFERENCE IN THE VICINITY OF THE KOREAN PENINSULA. U.S. OPERATORS FLYING IN THE INCHEON FIR (RKRR), ESPECIALLY NEAR SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA, ARE ADVISED THAT THEY MAY EXPERIENCE INTERFERENCE WITH OR DISRUPTION OF THEIR GPS NAVIGATION SYSTEMS WHILE FLYING IN THIS AREA. THERE HAVE BEEN REPORTS OF CIVIL AIRCRAFT EXPERIENCING GPS NAVIGATION SYSTEMS INTERFERENCE. IN THE EVENT INTERFERENCE OR DISRUPTION IS ENCOUNTERED, PILOTS SHOULD BE PREPARED TO USE NON-GPS NAVIGATIONAL AIDS. REPORT ANY GPS INTERFERENCE OR DISRUPTION ENCOUNTERED IN OR AROUND THE INCHEON FIR (RKRR) TO THE FAA AT…”

The situation there involves both launching of missile for tests and the interference with the GPS signals.

It is difficult to envision any circumstance in which a PIC would choose to enter such risky airspace. MANPADS, anti-aircraft fire, Ballistic Missiles, distorted GPS signals, the threat thereof or any combination thereof should compel the pilot to seek another route; the risk/reward analysis for such overflights does not compute. The language of the governmental warnings do not preclude such an unacceptable option.

There are no obvious reasons for the failure of the FAA, EASA or ICAO issuing an absolute, unambiguous ban on flights through these sectors. Certainly, the Eternal President of the Republic of North Korea would not be offended, if his crazed machinations were the basis for a closure by any authority of flights over his turf. Diplomats are exceptionally sensitive to slights that may be made, but once a warning about MANPADs in another country has been issued, the sensibility threshold has been breached. A NOTAM, which states that the situation is unstable, has already the responsible government.

The author of AviTrader bluntly summarizes the situation well:

“While the correct noises are being made on the other side of the Atlantic, it seems that there is much work to do on creating a European regulatory body that won’t pussyfoot around and protect itself by issuing vague warnings, but instead acts forcefully in the interests of passengers first rather than considering the politically commercial impact of any decision made as the priority.”

If nothing else, the lessons of MH-17 should mandate that governments protect their citizens from the potential of such future tragedies.

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