Airline boss suggests Malaysian tragedy could have been avoided
Friday, 12 September 2014 12:05

in UkraineThe boss of Emirates has told the BBC it would not have flown over Ukraine if the knowledge that high altitude missiles were there had been passed on.

Sir Tim Clark, said: "There was evidence that these missiles had been on site, in situ for a number of weeks beforehand.

"Emirates did not know of that fact, and I don't think many others did." He said though that some carriers did appear to know, but didn't share information.

Sir Tim added it was likely that every airline would have by-passed the danger zone if they had known. It's widely believed that a missile downed Malaysian flight MH17 on 17th July, killing all 298 people on board.

Planes had been cleared to fly in the area as long as they stayed above a certain height, and a report earlier this week highlighted the fact that three other large passenger jets were in the same area at roughly the same time as the Malaysian flight. Sir Tim said: "Had we known that, we would probably have reacted in a manner that would have seen a complete avoidance of Ukrainian airspace, probably as an industry.

"We have a concern that that information was known by certain stakeholders... and should have been passed... at least to the industry, to the organisations that regulate the industry. "We understand now that certain carriers were aware of that and had already taken avoidance action."

He is calling for an information "clearing house" to be set up, that can warn all airlines, quickly, if there are any new threats in an area. At the moment it's down to each individual airline to decide whether to travel over a war zone, based on information from local air traffic control and from their own government. And carriers aren't obliged to pass on the information to each other.

Airport expansion

Mr Clark, who is one of the most respected voices in the industry, also says that a "Yes" vote for Scotland would heighten the need for a new runway in the south of England. Although he made clear that he didn't want to get involved in the politics of the decision, he told us: "Clearly, if they do become independent they will develop their own civil aviation strategies, they will probably develop Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. But therefore there is more impetus required for the remaining parts of the UK to develop their aviation strategy, to fill a gap."

Like so many others in the business world, the Emirates' president says that doing nothing is not an option, be it expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick, or even at the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson's preferred location, in the Thames Estuary. After four decades in the business Tim Clark says he's seen airport expansion plans come and go, but there really does seem to be an urgency to do something this time.

"I witnessed the Maplin Sands episodes in the 70s. Clearly there wasn't a buy-in to the level that I believe there is today. When you see the likes of Mayor Johnson, you may not agree with his Estuary project... the fact is that a person like this, who is politically, extremely powerful, he has championed this cause, he has raised the profile of the need for London and the South East to have more access."

Maplin Sands was another proposal to build a floating airport in the Thames Estuary. They'd even begun building the place, but it was swiftly ditched in 1974 by the new Labour government in the wake of the oil crisis. Finally, Sir Tim made the point that the UK needs to grow all of its regional airports too, including Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Cardiff, which he described as having great potential.

(bbc.com)

photo credit: Reuters

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