Europe’s Pilots Decry Lack of Unity on Conflict Zone Ops

 - January 21, 2020, 2:29 PM

The downing of Ukrainian Airlines flight PS752 in Iran January 8 offers “tragic proof” that the industry hasn’t learned its lessons on flying into or over conflict zones from the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014, and that Europe has no effective system in place to reduce those risks, the European Cockpit Association (ECA) asserts. Unlike the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) cannot prohibit EU airlines from flying into or over conflict zones—it only can issue a recommendation—and it waited until January 16 to distribute a conflict zone information bulletin warning operators against entering Iran airspace at altitudes below Flight Level 250. The EASA CZIB followed days after the FAA issued a Notam preventing U.S. air carriers from overflying Iran, Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and the Gulf of Oman. In the EU, the UK published a Notam advising their operators not to enter Iranian air space, the German Notam warned for a potentially hazardous situation in the Tehran FIR, while France’s Notam requested French airlines not to authorize their aircraft to enter Iranian and Iraqi airspace until January 22.

An EU or international authority to take responsibility for the closure of hostile airspace “is not something that shows any sign of happening soon,” ECA president Jon Horne said. The Brussels-based representative body of over 40,000 pilots from across Europe criticized the reluctance or outright refusal of EU’s member states to share their security intelligence about conflict zones and called for a swift change of attitude. “What we urgently need is a method of sharing and acting, not upon closely guarded intelligence, but upon the outcome of risk analysis about conflict zones sufficiently to provide protection,” Horne said.

The ECA admitted that such an arrangement might not be perfect, though it insisted on a need for at least a stopgap measure such as an industry held database of current risk assessment outcomes and default procedures for any new armed conflict. It could also be a simple rule of “two out – all out”: If at least two EU member states and/or two major airlines decide to not fly into a specific block of conflict-affected airspace, all the other EU states and airlines would take up the decision until the situation gets clarified.

“These ideas are neither conventional, ideal, nor the only solutions,” noted ECA secretary general Philip von Schöppenthau. “But the international failure to effectively cope with flying over and into conflict zones keeps costing lives.”