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Warn airlines about missile threats

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October 1st 2017

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The war of words between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un presents a very serious threat to airlines and their passengers and crew. Read More » North Korea’s rockets have soared high over Japan’s Hokkaido island before plunging into the Sea of Japan.

In response to the missile launches, European carriers Lufthansa, Swiss Air and SAS have altered their flight routes to avoid crossing the Sea of Japan when approaching Tokyo from Europe. After North Korea’s second long-range missile test in July, a U.S. official revealed that Air France 293, flying from Tokyo to Paris, had flown across the rocket’s flight path 10 minutes before it was launched.

Korean Air and Asiana Airlines have not adjusted their flight paths because their aircraft do not travel through northern Japan, nor have All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines. The Japanese carriers said that they had no information about the timing or trajectory of missile launches so they had no reason to believe one route was safer than another.

Dozens of daily flights from North America also approach Japan from the north. Statistically, the chance of a missile hitting one of these planes may be low, but nevertheless it is a risk too far.

Some effort must be made to convince North Korea that civilian airlines be given warning of the timing of the tests. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has some contact with the rogue state’s aviation authorities. Hopefully approaches have been made, although in the present political climate it seems unlikely they will produce meaningful results.

The issue underscores the importance of convincing governments, whatever their views, that freedom of the air and the safety of flight routes for the world’s airlines is paramount.

Dialogue needs to be redoubled to allow timely and accurate information about potential threats along the world’s airways so carriers can divert their routings from danger. The devastating shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines MH 17 over the Ukraine in July 2014 is still too fresh in everyone’s minds to allow such a tragedy to ever happen again.

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