MH17 Has Caused Airlines to Move Ahead of Regulators

24_Regulation

And so it has come to this. In a heightened new sense of aviation security, airlines have vaulted ahead of regulators in the calculus of flying near war zones. You can’t outsmart crazy.

Israeli airline El Al flies its regular schedule. A Delta flight from JFK heading to Tel Aviv flips a U-ey midair and lands in Paris. The FAA, our housekeepers of safety, imposed a ban on flights to Israel, which has since been lifted, but only after the airlines act. It’s a thump on the back. They hadn’t said a word and now seem to be talking to themselves.

One result of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is what the Associated Press labels “both a skittishness and a new sense of urgency in dealing with global trouble spots.”

For Delta, the tipping point came when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near Ben-Gurion Airport. Other airlines in the U.S., Canada and Europe followed their lead with no immediate plans to resume flights.

Now that regulators have stepped in, airlines are at their mercy. Which is maybe how it’s supposed to be.

The Israeli government took exception to flight cancellations, insisting Ben-Gurion Airport is safe, not wanting it sealed off. There is no reason to “hand terror a prize,” by halting the flights.

Even former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged the FAA to “reverse course” and permit U.S. airlines to fly to Israel. He flew to Tel Aviv in the heat of the action to prove he wasn’t (or was) jousting with death.

And as AP reported, Germany’s Lufthansa, Alitalia and Air France all acted before the European Aviation Safety Agency issued an advisory. Everyone knew that MH17 was on an Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur flight path approved by international regulators.

Scandinavian Airlines, Norwegian, Royal Jordanian and Korean were also quick to cancel flights to Israel.

The Tarmac’s View: Let’s play lawyer. Suppose we’re working for an airline with all the confidence that comes from charging by the minute and the top-floor office wants our advice about flying near a war zone.

We remind them that MH17 was shot down over Ukraine by a missile no one wants to claim. It’s like getting totaled by somebody with no insurance. On a lot of levels, safety being Priority One, there are good reasons why airlines must do their own risk assessment. You need to avoid claims of negligence, we tell them. The onus of proof is on you. That’s a tough assignment when flying into the strobe light of an airport after a near-miss rocket hit.

We know. On average, more than a 1,000 passengers fly each way on the four daily flights between the U.S. and Israel on American carriers (Bureau of Transportation Statistics). That’s a heavy hit on the ambrosia of long-haul revenue. So is a downed aircraft. Just ask Malaysia Airlines.

[Photo: iStock]

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