By Alexander Cornwell
DOHA, Feb 5 (Reuters) – The shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner near Tehran has given new urgency to efforts to develop a shared conflict alert system for airlines, the head of the world’s biggest airline body said on Wednesday.
Iranian air defence units said they mistakenly shot down Ukrainian International Airlines flight PS752, killing all 176 people on board, shortly after it took off from Tehran airport on Jan. 8. At the time, they were on heightened alert because of increased tensions with the United States.
The incident has renewed calls for an effective conflict alert system for airlines. Concerns were also heightened in 2014 when Malaysia Airlines MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 on board.
“There will be something to be done again,” International Air Transport Association Chief Executive Alexandre de Juniac told Reuters at a CAPA aviation summit in Doha.
IATA represents about 290 airlines, or more than 80% of global air traffic.
After the Malaysian Airlines flight was shot down, IATA backed the creation by the United Nations’ aviation agency, ICAO, of a conflict zone website that would alert airlines and pilots of possible dangers. But the site was closed after complaints from some countries over information sharing.
“It’s not a reason to give up. The shooting of the Ukrainian airliner is an additional reason not to give up but to continue and be successful,” de Juniac said.
Air safety experts say there is inadequate government intelligence sharing and some countries involved in conflicts are reluctant to divulge information or sacrifice overflight fees by shutting their skies.
Some airlines began avoiding Iraqi and Iranian airspace after the United States killed a top Iranian commander, an incident that raised tensions before flight PS752 was shot down.
De Juniac said a dedicated body that issues guidelines – rather than mandatory decisions – on whether to overfly certain zones could be more palatable to those who had opposed the mechanism. This “could be a significant improvement,” he said.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage)