“How Do Airlines Traverse War Zones?”
Christian Science Monitor, July 18, 2014
“Before Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was likely shot down over eastern Ukraine Thursday, apparently by a Russian-made missile, aviation officials from Europe and the United States had already been issuing a flurry of warnings to commercial airlines, as well as adjusting flight restrictions and no-fly zones as Russian separatists increasingly began to take their fight to the skies. … On July 1, Ukraine told airline pilots not to fly below 26,000 feet over the region. But on Monday, officials raised the no-fly area up to 32,000 feet, more than six miles above the ground, after another Russian-made missile took down a Ukrainian military cargo jet flying at 21,000 feet, officials said. Flight 17 was flying at 33,000 when it was shot down, killing all 298 people on board, officials say. … Still, it is not uncommon for commercial civilian airliners to fly over restive, war-torn regions, including those in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the world, experts say. And Flight 17 was flying in a well-traversed route. … Nearly 290 commercial flights continued to operate over the war zone, with only 10 diverted flight plans in recent weeks, according to EUROCONTROL. These included major airlines, including British Airways, Air France, and Lufthansa, who were among those using the same route over eastern Ukraine, according to FlightRadar24 . On Thursday, these also included a Singapore Airlines passenger plane that was flying just 15 miles away from Flight 17 when it was shot down, as well as 55 other civilian jets that flew through the war zone the same day, according to reports.”
Quickie Analysis: As pundits argue about whether the Malaysian airliner should have been at 32,000 feet or 35,000 feet or some other number, it is important to note that a Russian-made SA-11 missile can shoot down planes at an altitude of 70,000 feet.