Four years after MH17, where is aviation on Conflict Zones?

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Why are we still flying airline passengers over war zones?

What learned from MH17?

What’s available?


The message of International OPS 2018 is well said and so here is their recent post verbatim:

Here’s the level of inconsistency we’ve reached in international air transport: we take each passenger, scrutinize their booking, check the no-fly-list, watch them on CCTV, pull them apart at TSA, remove anything sharper than a pen, question them, x-ray the bags, run Explosive Trace Detection tests, screen the hold baggage, background check every member of the crew, and then, once they’ve all boarded, fly this ultra-secure airplane straight into a war zone.

Welcome to the Eastern Mediterranean. It’s an active conflict zone. The Russian naval build up there this month is the largest since Moscow’s intervention in Syria began in 2015. Over Syria, 9 aircraft have been shot down this year.

The most recent was on Monday night this week, when Syria came under attack from Israel fighter jets, and started firing indiscriminately at anything off the coast that looked like a threat. They wanted to shoot something down, and they did — except it was a friend, not foe. They took out a Russian Ilyushin IL-20M transport category airplane. Even on the worst radar, that doesn’t look anything like an Israeli F-16.

50 miles away from where the Russian aircraft plunged into the sea on Monday night is the international airway UL620, busy with all the big name airline traffic heading for Beirut and Tel Aviv. If Syria can mistakenly shoot down a Russian ally aircraft, they can also take out your A320 as you cruise past.

And yet, most airlines continue to operate. Are we really so comfortable with operating in conflict zones again?


The lessons of MH17 seem to be fading fast. It’s a little over four years since 298 people lost their lives over Ukraine one summer afternoon, thanks to an errant missile fired during a civil war at an aircraft that they thought was a military threat. “Why were they over a war zone”, everyone cried afterwards.

Well, we all were. Me too. I was a pilot for Austrian Airlines at the time. I recall one morning in Vienna, some months before MH17. Boarding the last of the passengers, my BBC news app flashed up a story about a helicopter being shot down in eastern Ukraine .

Yet this graphic shows that 10 commercial airlines flew over this risk

My guess: because we don’t think anything bad is going to happen, because the airspace boundary lines on the charts make that little bit of sea near Cyprus feel different from that little bit of sea near Syria, but mainly because there is no clear guidance from Aviation Authorities.


Let’s start with Cyprus. The Nicosia FIR has a big chunk of unsafe airspace. The Russian aircraft on Monday was shot down on the Nicosia FIR boundary. What do the Notams say? Take a look. There are 97 of them. Mostly about fireworks at local hotels. Critical stuff indeed. Then there are 20 or 30 about “Russian naval exercises”. A clue, perhaps, but where is the black and white “An Aircraft was Shot Down on our Border on Monday?” . Or, since we are still using teletype to communicate Notams[1] to crews, “AN AIRCRAFT WAS SHOT DOWN ON OUR BORDER ON MONDAY”. Wait, we have to abbreviate that, and use codes, for some reason. “ACFT SHOT DOWN ON FIR BDY 17SEP”. That’s better.

What about Turkey? Anything on the Eastern Mediterranean risk? Let’s have a look. Nope, just 132 Bullshit Notams[2], and something about an AWACS aircraft. See you back here in 30 minutes when you’ve read them all.


Remember, I’m being a pilot, an airline, a dispatcher, trying to find information on the Risk in the Eastern Mediterranean. And this is how hard it is.

EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency), how are you doing? Let’s start here, at the “Information on Conflict Zones”. Paragraph 2 tells us that ICAO have a Central Repository on Conflict Zones, launched in 2015.

No, they don’t. That died — quite a long time ago. This is where it used to live. So, there is no ICAO Central Repository on Conflict Zones. There is a new ICAO document with guidance on managing Conflict Zone risk (and it’s a bloody good one, too) — but where is the picture of current risk?

Let’s plough on through the EASA site. Aha! Seems we have a Conflict Zone alerting system, and Conflict Zone bulletins. Here they all are:

The last one on Syria was issued on April 17th. But it seems to be just a list of Notams issued by other states. And these are out of date. The German Notam has expired, the French AIC has been replaced.

And there’s no guidance. No Map. No routes to avoid. Nothing about Cyprus, or Beirut. No mention of the Russian shootdown. No mention of the 9 aircraft shot down this year.

How am I supposed to know, as an operator, or pilot, what the risks are and where to avoid. We’re getting closer to the point here. You’re not supposed to rely on the Aviation Authority. That is their message. You must conduct your own risk assessment. You must research and find out about the risks yourself.

You are on your own.

If you’re a big airline, that’s probably fine. You’ll make your own decisions about where to fly, anyhow. But what about everybody else?

While OpsGroup works hard to get information out to our members — and we spend a lot of time researching risk — I would greatly prefer that we didn’t have to.



EASA has a site with a



Eurocontrol Gives Official Warnings to Airlines Regarding Syria Air Missile Strikes




ICAO did have a Conflict Zone Information Repository (see above graphic from 2017), but its flawed source of warnings resulted in a general statement. Risks posed to civil aviation operations over or near conflict zones 

U.N. aviation agency not eyeing ‘no-fly’ zone around N. Korea


FAA Announces New NOTAM Header Format for Conflict Zones, Crisis Situations 2014

Prohibitions, Restrictions and Notices

This information may apply to U.S. or foreign-registered aircraft. We provide the information on this site as a public service. You may call (202) 267-4080 regarding FAA Special Federal Aviation Regulations (SFARs), particularly regarding SFAR exemptions, applicable to any countries listed below or for updates as specified in OpSpec B450. You may contact us at with any other comments or questions. To subscribe for GovDelivery updates regarding this webpage, click on the envelope icon at the upper right section of this page.

US updates its Syria airspace warning




















International Flight Resources

International Prohibited, Warning and Danger Airspace


Aeronautical Information Publication, AIP The AIP is the official word from the country you are traveling in or over. Look in the AIP’s Enroute section, Chapter 5.0 titled “Navigation Warnings”. This is the same place that charting companies will references to produce the chart annotation that we use operationally in the cockpit.

Aeronautical Information Circulars, AIC AICs are used to provide information which relates to flight safety, air navigation, technical, administrative or legislative matters and may be used for disseminating information with graphical content that does not qualify for inclusion into the AIP or a NOTAM. This is an ICAO definition that the FAA does not use.

Special Federal Aviation Regulation, SFAR The FAA has sometimes seen the need to issue Special Federal Aviation Regulations. These are frequently focused very specifically on a unique situation, and are usually given a limited length of time for effectiveness. The SFAR number is purely a sequential number and has no relevance to the regulation it is addressing or attached to. This is a FAA definition that the ICAO does not use.

Notices to Airmen, NOTAM These are defined inside both the ICAO and FAA. This notice will cover short duration or temporary changes or short notice permanent changes. They contain information concerning the establishment, condition or change in any aeronautical facility, service, procedure or hazard, the timely knowledge of which is essential to personnel concerned with flight operations. A “Trigger NOTAM” can used to inform users of operationally significant information due to be incorporated into an AIP from previous publications.

OpsSpec B450 The FAA maintains a list of foreign areas where potentially hostile situations exist. They will communicate vital and time sensitive safety information regarding over flights and/or flights into these areas to operators listed on OpSpec/MSpec/LOA B450. B450 is not an authorization, but is a data collection template that tracks what sensitive countries an operator operates into or overflies. B450 is mandatory for the areas of operation identified as sensitive international areas authorized in the operator’s B050. B450 is applicable to 14 CFR parts 121, 125, 135, 91 and 91K.


US Department of State, Travel Warnings The US State Department will issue a Travel Warning when they want US citizens to consider very carefully whether they should go to a country at all. Examples of reasons for issuing a Travel Warning might include unstable government, civil war, ongoing intense crime or violence, or frequent terrorist attacks. Travel Warnings remain in place until the situation changes; some have been in effect for years.

US Department of State, Travel Alerts The US State Department issues a Travel Alert for short-term events they think you should know about when planning travel to a country. Examples of reasons for issuing a Travel Alert might include an election season that is bound to have many strikes, demonstrations, or disturbances; a health alert like an outbreak of H1N1; or evidence of an elevated risk of terrorist attacks. When these short-term events are over, the Travel Alert is cancelled.

US Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control, OFAC OFAC of the US Department of the Treasury administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions based on US foreign policy and national security goals against targeted foreign countries and regimes, terrorists, international narcotics traffickers, those engaged in activities related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Blocking of assets and trade restrictions to accomplish foreign policy and national security goals, sanctions can be either comprehensive or selective. Here are examples of comprehensively embargoed countries: Crimea Region of Ukraine, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria

US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security: Export Administration Regulation, EAR This agency has the mission statement of ensuring an effective export control and treaty compliance system and promoting continued U.S. strategic technology leadership. Below here is a link to the most current published list Commerce Control List. Countries with Restricted Entities on the EAR Entity Chart are: China, Canada, Germany, Iran, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, Egypt, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Lebanon, Singapore, South Korea, Syria, United Arab Emirates the United Kingdom.

The International Traffic in Arms Regulations, ITAR: Prohibited Countries The U.S. Government views the sale, export, and re-transfer of defense articles and defense services as an integral part of safeguarding U.S. national security and furthering U.S. foreign policy objectives. The Arms Export Control Act authorizes the President to control the export and import of defense articles and defense services. These regulations are primarily administered by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Defense Trade Controls, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. The list of prohibited countries is pretty long: Afghanistan, Belarus, Central African Republic, Cuba, Cyprus, Eritrea, Fiji, Iran, Iraq, Cote d’Ivoire, Lebanon, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Vietnam, Myanmar, China, Haiti, Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Republic of the Sudan (Northern Sudan), Yemen, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Democratic Republic of the Congo.




[1] NTSB says Notams are ‘just a pile of garbage’


[2] Op sit.


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