Published On: Sat, Sep 13th, 2014

Airline Boss Suggests Malaysian MH17 Tragedy Could Have Been Avoided

The boss of Emirates has suggested that airlines would have avoided flying over Ukraine long before flight MH17 crashed, if information about missiles in the area had been passed on.

Malaysian MH17

Sir Tim Clark told the BBC there had been evidence of weapons for weeks.

But he claimed those in the know didn’t share it with most of the carriers flying across the country.

If the airlines had all been told, he suggests, the industry would probably have by-passed the danger zone.

And he added that some carriers did appear to know because they were avoiding the area, but they didn’t share the information.

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: “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. 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 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.”

British Airways was among several airlines that had been avoiding Ukraine for weeks. But in a recent BBC interview, the overall boss of the company, Willie Walsh, said that decision was based on information that was publicly available at the time.

Sir Tim 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

Sir Tim, 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 Sir Tim 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.