Halting service over a conflict zone may seem
like an easy call, but experts say not every airline is equipped to identify
danger zones.
A slew of international airlines have stopped flying over
the Sinai Peninsula this week in response to the mysterious crash of a Russian
commercial jet with more than 200 people on board.
It's still not clear what
might have caused the crash, though security officials in Britain and the
U.S.
have raised growing concerns that it was brought down by a bomb.
Halting
service over a conflict zone may seem like an easy call, but aviation safety
experts say not every airline is equipped with the resources to identify
danger zones.
Regulatory authorities like the U.S.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
provide the first line of defense when it comes to managing security
risks.
The FAA issues notices and regulations restricting operations by
U.S.
airlines in various regions in the world.
Some are blanket restrictions
like a federal rule prohibiting all travel over Iraq, where the country's
central government faces militants from the Islamic State (ISIS) with
extensive military capability.
But determining where a commercial plan can fly safely is more complicated
than simply identifying conflict zones.
Regulators rely on intelligence
operations to understand what weapons are in use on the ground and whether
they pose any risk to jets.
In many cases, like flights over Afghanistan,
regulators require pilots to maintain a minimum altitude deemed safe from
possible ground fire.
Regions within Egypt, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen,
Mali, North Korea and Ukraine all face federal restrictions of one form or
another.
Government regulators aren't the only ones deciding when U.S.
pilots
should stop flying over a certain region.
Large airlines rely on an extensive
security teams that works in tandem with airline operations officials to
develop flight plans on a day-to-day basis.
Larry Wansley, a former managing
director of corporate security at American Airlines, described a collaborative
process on security measures between airlines, the FAA, the Transportation
Security Administration (TSA) and other government agencies.
Airlines had
secure lines of communication with government officials where confidential
information could be shared, he said.
"We always wanted to be not only responsive but also proactive," said
Wansley, a former FBI agent and hostage negotiator.
"We wanted to be ahead
of the game, address trends, go through analysis, and determine the best way
to attack a particular issue." In some cases, airline security operations
have led carriers to modify their service even while the FAA has remained
publicly mum.
Delta and United Airlines both cancelled flights to Israel last
summer after a rocket landed near Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International
Airport.
(The FAA later ordered the airlines to halt flights).
Other
countries, particularly in the developed world, maintain similar standards as
the FAA.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) oversees safety concerns
for operators from the European Union.
The Civil Aviation Administration of
China (CAAC) plays the same role for Chinese operators.
"Each country has its own aviation safety authority and its own security
authority," said Jacques Astre, an airline consultant at the Wicks
Group."Each country has a responsibility to mandate its airlines not to fly
in [a dangerous] region." But small airlines, particularly those in
developing countries, lack the same standards and security operations that
help make U.S.
airlines among the safest in the world.
And while U.S.
and
European airlines avoid flying over certain dangerous air space, others may
keep operating as usual.
British Airways and all U.S.
carriers were among the
airlines avoiding flying over eastern Ukraine when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
was shot down over a war zone in Crimea last year.
"I would expect every airline to have that capability and be committed to
it," said Wansley of strong security operations.
"But realistically
speaking there are some airlines around this world that are not even
close.
And those are some I would not fly on." This story originally
appeared on Time

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