Singapore Flights to review their risk assessment of flying over conflict areas, says Transport Minister

The Singapore Airlines (SIA) flight SQ351 was flying safely when MH 17 gunned down said Minister of Transportation Mr.Lui Tuck yesterday at parliament. He also verified that SQ 351 from Copenhagen was “approximately 90km away” when Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot downed, adding that SIA immediately re-routed all their flights to avoid Ukrainian airspace entirely after receiving news of the incident.

Questions were raised in parliament yesterday: the SQ flights had flight paths that used Ukrainian air space, why SQ was flying over eastern Ukraine given Ukraine’s heightened conflict with Russia especially when Ukraine had closed its airspace between ground level and 32,000 feet.

Mr Lui said the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) had issued an advisory in April for airlines to avoid an airspace over Crimea called the Simferopol Flight Information Region (FIR).

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At the time of the incident, SIA and Malaysian Airlines were using a different airspace called Dnipropetrovsk FIR. On July 1, the Ukrainian authorities had prohibited commercial flights from flying below 26,000 feet. They further extended this restriction to 32,000 feet on July 14 without giving a reason.

“They continued to allow commercial flights in this airspace above 32,000 feet,” said Mr Lui. “The Ukrainian authority is in the best position to assess the threat to commercial flights over its airspace. Indeed, under international law, Ukraine is responsible for putting in place measures to ensure the safe passage of civilian aircraft,” said Mr Lui.

He also added that since the Ukrainian authorities continued to allow commercial flights in Dnipropetrovsk FIR above 32,000 feet, no national aviation authorities, regional aviation bodies, nor ICAO had provided any advisories to avoid that part of the Ukrainian airspace, he said.

The SIA uses sophisticated computer-based flight planning systems to help them in their flight planning, and continuously conduct risk assessments on their flight routes, he said. The airline, as part of its safety assessment process, has also proactively avoided overflying certain conflict areas even if the airways were available for use, he added.

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Calling the downing of MH17 as a “horrific tragedy”, Mr Lui said when the Parliamentarians were briefed about new precautionary measures to ensure the safety of passengers flying in and out of Singapore, especially on routes flying over areas of conflict. Also he added that the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore has requested Singapore carriers to review their risk assessment of flight operations over conflict areas.