Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Dangerous Skies: MH17 and the Culpability of Civil Aviation

It shows a degree of poor sight from a civil aviation perspective, but disturbingly, the refusal on the part of Ukrainian authorities to heed concerns that the airspace in the eastern part of the country should have been closed to civilian aircraft prior to the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 last year was always a telling point. The reality of military losses inflicted by surface to air weapons systems was already a pressing reality.

The release of the Dutch Safety Board report at the Gilze-Rijen air force base by Tjibbe Joustra capped off a day of duelling theories, though these did not dispute the role played by a missile in the destruction of MH17. Hours prior, the state-owned Russian arms manufacturer Almaz-Antey had given its own, heavily simulated variation about what it claimed took place. Yan Novikov, the company’s director, suggested that, “The results of the experiment completely dispute the conclusions of the Dutch commission about the type of rocket and the launch site.”

Earlier, Mikhail Malyshevky claimed that MH17 was “definitely” downed “by a 9M38 from the area of Zaroshchenske village,” making the missile one of older vintage that had been decommissioned by the Russian forces in 2011. The Safety Board report suggested that the projectile was a later 9N314M BUK.

Despite Russian consternation at disputes over the missile system used, and the contested suggestions that it was launched from rebel-held territory, the overwhelming sense here was that such commercial airliners should not have been flying over eastern Ukraine at the time. Even at the time MH17 was shot down, publications such as Der Spiegel noted how crowded that particularly route was. According to Joustra, there were 32 countries still sending their airliners through the airspace. “MH17 was one of the 160 flights that operated there.”

The Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, also cited by the Dutch Safety Board report, makes it clear that responsibility for aviation safety is the preserve of the sovereign state in question. As the chief executive of the International Air Transport Association, Tony Tyler, explained last year, “Airlines depend on governments and air traffic control authorities to advise which air space is available for flight, and they plan within those limits.”

Ukrainian aviation authorities were certainly not going to restrict commercial flights, which provide overflight fees exacted similar to road tolls. The cash incentive, one made more pronounced by Ukraine’s poor finances, tended to take precedence over airline safety.

The other obvious point here is the commercial airline industry itself. Judgment here was deferred to decisions made by Ukrainian authorities, despite mounting evidence that increasingly powerful weapons were being deployed in the conflict. The same guidelines had been also approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the IATA – a closure of that airspace to commercial flights was never encouraged.

This did not stop flight thresholds from being used, an implicit admission that the threat was real. These were lifted from 26,000 feet to 32,000 after the downing of a military cargo jet at 21,000 feet. Evidently, some airlines heeded this as a dire warning, and were conspicuously absent on the routes. “During the period in which the conflict in the eastern part of Ukraine expanded into the airspace,” noted the DSB, “neither Ukraine nor other states or international organisations issued any specific authority warnings to civil aviation about the airspace above the eastern part of the Ukraine.”

The onus was on the Ukrainian authorities to take measures that simply never eventuated. “The weapons system mentioned by the Ukrainian authorities in relation to the shooting down of these aircraft can pose a risk to civil aeroplanes, because they are capable of reaching their cruising altitude. However, no measures were taken to protect civil aeroplanes against these weapon systems.”

Instead of acknowledging that aspect of the report, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko did what sides in this conflict have done from the start: politicise tragedy. Joustra had made it clear that allocating blame was “outside the mandate of the safety board”, though this restraining feature of the findings did not deter the government in Kiev. “The missile was launched from the territory occupied by Russians. Dutch investigators cannot reveal the surnames of criminals. It should be done by the international tribunal.”

For Poroshenko, the downing of MH17 never had anything to do with the insufficiency of Kiev’s warnings or concerns over a conflict zone – it was an act of presumed Russian criminality. Any contrary assertion has been dismissed.

In this attitude, he keeps company with such individuals as former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte. On Tuesday, Rutte simply stated what to him was an obvious, if prematurely judged assertion. “We must do the utmost so the people who did it will not avoid… punishment.” To even attribute a mixed regime of responsibility for the deaths of 298 people has proven too much to stomach in this most polarising of conflicts. But the words of the Board still ring true for future reference. “Operators cannot take it for granted that open airspace above a conflict zone is safe.”

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
Ralph Nader
Unmasking Phony Values Campaigns by the Corporatists
Victor Grossman
A Big Rally and a Bavarian Vote
James Bovard
Groped at the Airport: Congress Must End TSA’s Sexual Assaults on Women
Jeff Roby
Florida After Hurricane Michael: the Sad State of the Unheeded Planner
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Bradley Kaye
The Policy of Policing
Wim Laven
The Catholic Church Fails Sexual Abuse Victims
Kevin Cashman
One Year After Hurricane Maria: Employment in Puerto Rico is Down by 26,000
Dr. Hakim Young
Nonviolent Afghans Bring a Breath of Fresh Air
Karl Grossman
Irving Like vs. Big Nuke
Dan Corjescu
The New Politics of Climate Change
John Carter
The Plight of the Pyrenees: the Abandoned Guard Dogs of the West
Ted Rall
Brett Kavanaugh and the Politics of Emotion-Shaming
Graham Peebles
Sharing is Key to a New Economic and Democratic Order
Ed Rampell
The Advocates
Louis Proyect
The Education Business
David Yearsley
Shock-and-Awe Inside Oracle Arena
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail