Pilots warned of risks to civilian planes over Ukraine


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Airline pilots were warned on Thursday of increased danger to civilian aircraft due to the war in Ukraine, including the risk of mid-air collisions in busy neutral lanes and passenger planes being misidentified as planes of war.

European Union aviation chiefs said it was ‘easy to see the potential’ for civilian aircraft to be hit by missiles in the ‘confused arena of war’, where both sides report having shot down hundreds of enemy aircraft.

The Malaysian Airlines MH17 passenger plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014 on its way from the Netherlands to Kuala Lumpur, killing 298 people. Dutch authorities blamed the incident on Russia for allegedly supplying the deadly missile to the separatists.

The European agency EASA said security risks were heightened by potential cyberattacks, jamming of navigation equipment and the danger of civilian planes accidentally straying into military airspace.

But he said the risks went beyond a clumsy missile strike, also encompassing the potential effect of sanctions on the airworthiness of civilian aircraft.

Russia and the EU have closed their airspace to each other’s planes, forcing them into long detours, while Western sanctions have restricted trade and Russia has passed a law allowing it to seize foreign planes.

Planes stranded in Russia could be cannibalized for parts without meeting proper safety standards, aviation chiefs said, while spare parts could become scarce or expensive and affect maintenance.

The airspace closures also mean pilots will have to take routes they are less familiar with, according to the six-page safety assessment, and could become more fatigued due to the need to avoid the vast space. air from Russia.

Experts are particularly concerned about this as some pilots long kept out of the cockpit by coronavirus restrictions could find themselves “returning from leave in a more complex operating environment” caused by the war.

The detours also mean air crew could be exposed to more cosmic radiation, which comes from outer space, due to being in the air for longer hours or rerouting their trips closer to the more exposed North Pole.

On top of that, Russia’s ban on EU airspace means that there is only a small stretch of the Baltic Sea, between Finnish and Estonian waters, where Russian planes can move from the mainland to the enclave of Kaliningrad.

Flights over neutral waters have increased dramatically, increasing the workload for air traffic controllers and meaning that “unidentified aircraft using these routes may conflict with other traffic,” the document says.

Ukraine claims to have destroyed 196 Russian planes, 312 drones and 155 helicopters during the conflict, while Russian generals report that a similar number of Ukrainian planes were destroyed.

In another setback for air travel, German airline Lufthansa said on Thursday that ticket prices were likely to rise due to soaring energy costs.

Jet fuel prices are climbing ‘too high to be offset by further cost reductions’, Lufthansa chief financial officer Remco Steenbergen told a news conference, meaning ticket prices will have to rise .

Nonetheless, chief executive Carsten Spohr said the airline was forecasting a record summer for tourist activity as passenger numbers rebounded from the pandemic.

Updated: 05 May 2022, 14:29

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