Virgin Atlantic bans flights over Iraq amid new safety fears

Virgin Atlantic to stop flying over Iraq over safety fears
Virgin Atlantic to stop flying over Iraq over safety fears

Virgin Atlantic has announced that it will not to fly over Iraq because of safety concerns.

The UK carrier's move follows fears that insurgents could strike again at passenger planes following the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Ukraine with the loss of 298 lives.

However some airlines, including British Airways, are continuing to use Iraq airspace, emphasising the need for clarity about just which routes are safe to fly. Source: PA.

A step towards sorting the situation out was taken in Montreal yesterday at a global aviation chiefs' meeting hosted by UN body the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

World aviation bosses decided to set up a senior-level task force composed of state and industry experts.

This task force will try to ensure that information and intelligence that could affect the safety of airline passengers and crews is effectively collected and disseminated.

The aviation industry has called for the ICAO to also look at the need to incorporate into international law, through appropriate UN frameworks, measures to govern the design, manufacture and deployment of modern anti-aircraft weaponry.

The ICAO said it was also convening a high-level safety conference with all of its 191 member states in February 2015.

The organisation's secretary general Raymond Benjamin said all the aviation bodies "strongly condemned the use of weapons against the civilian aircraft".

He described the downing of MH17, with the loss of 298 lives including 10 Britons, as "unacceptable" and he sent the aviation world's "deepest condolences" to the families of the victims.

Jim McAuslan, general secretary of British pilots' organisation Balpa, said: "It is reassuring that the UN aviation body and airlines accept that there is a problem with the lack of clear, uniform rules and information guiding pilots on when they should not fly over conflict areas.

"What we need now is action from the working group. The flawed current system allowed 298 innocent passengers, pilots and crew to become targets in a war and pilots want to see a solid and serious solution to stop this ever happening again."

He went on: "We will be asking the British Government to lead the way and urgently push for a safety-first approach that would protect British passengers whatever airline they are flying with and wherever they are travelling."

Jeff Poole, director general of the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (Canso) said: "The downing of Flight MH17 raises vital questions about the safety of aircraft over conflict zones.

"The incident shows that there are gaps in the overall management of airspace."

International Air Transport Association director general and chief executive Tony Tyler said: "The tragic shooting down of MH17 was an attack on the whole air transport industry.

"The world's airlines are angry. Civil aircraft are instruments of peace. They should not be the target of weapons of war.

"We are asking ICAO to address two critical tasks.

"The first, and most urgent, is to ensure that governments provide airlines with better information with which to make risk assessments of the various threats they may face.

"The second is equally important but comes with a longer timeframe. We will find ways through international law that will oblige governments better to control weapons which have the capability to pose a danger to civil aviation. Achieving these will make our safe industry even safer."

He went on: "We were told that flights traversing Ukraine's territory at above 32,000 feet would not be in harm's way. We now know how wrong that guidance was. It is essential that airlines receive clear guidance regarding threats to their passengers, crew and aircraft.

"Such information must be accessible in an authoritative, accurate, consistent and unequivocal way. This is the responsibility of states. There can be no excuses. Even sensitive information can be sanitised and still remain operationally relevant."

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