New urgency for airline conflict alert system

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The shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner near Tehran has given new urgency to efforts to develop a shared conflict alert system for airlines, the head of the world’s biggest airline body said.

Iranian air defence units mistakenly shot down Ukrainian International Airlines flight PS752, killing all 176 people on board, shortly after it took off from Tehran airport on January 8. At the time, they were on high alert because of increased tensions with the US.

The incident renewed calls for an effective airline conflict alert system. Concerns were heightened in 2014 when Malaysia Airlines MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 on board.

“Something will have to be done again,” International Air Transport Association Chief Executive Alexandre de Juniac told Reuters at a CAPA aviation summit in Doha.

IATA represents 290 airlines, more than 80% of global air traffic.

After the Malaysian Airlines flight was shot down, IATA backed the creation by the United Nations’ aviation agency, ICAO, of a conflict zone website to alert airlines and pilots of possible dangers. The site was closed after complaints over information sharing.

“It’s not a reason to give up. The Ukrainian airliner is an additional reason not to give up but continue and be successful,” de Juniac said.

Air safety experts say there is inadequate government intelligence sharing and some countries involved in conflicts are reluctant to divulge information or sacrifice overflight fees by shutting their skies.

Some airlines began avoiding Iraqi and Iranian airspace after the US killed a top Iranian commander, an incident that raised tensions before flight PS752 was shot down.



De Juniac said a dedicated body that issues guidelines – rather than mandatory decisions – on whether to overfly certain zones could be more palatable to those opposing the mechanism. This “could be a significant improvement,” he said.