When Flight MH17 went down due to a missile striking it above the Donetsk area of Ukraine, one of the first questions asked was: Why was a passenger plane flying there to begin with? Don't they know it is unsafe airspace? The answer is... kind of.
Technically, the airspace was useable. Despite the ongoing violence in the region, it was completely legal for the plane to be there. Here's the statement from the International Air Transport Association has confirmed the plane was not in restricted airspace:
We extend our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the passengers and crew of MH17. Based on the information currently available it is believed that the airspace that the aircraft was traversing was not subject to restrictions.
While it wasn't in restricted airspace, it was not in a safe zone either. Civilian airliners have been warned since April to avoid flying over certain parts of Ukraine. Those warnings were mainly for the area around Crimea. Nonetheless, a sense of warning was in the air. Still, a number of airlines were in the area and still using similar flight paths at the time of the crash:
FlightRadar24 puts Singapore Airlines and Air India just around the aerial corner from Malaysia Airlines. This means that, clearly, Flight 17 was not an anomaly. They were not doing anything shocking or unusual by taking this particular flight path. As a spokesperson for the the airline said during a briefing in Amsterdam on Friday, "It could have happened to any of us."
The New York Times offered this useful tracing of the flight paths:
Now, other airline carriers will have to make changes to their flights going forward. Emirates Airlines has already planned to stop all flights to Kiev starting August 1. Air France, Virgin, Russia Aeroflot, TransAero, Turkish Airlines, KLM, and Lufthansa have all decided to change routes to avoid this airspace in the future.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.