FAA: Restricted Air Zones Constantly Updated

Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 11:40 AM

By Jennifer G. Hickey

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With many nations engaged in active conflicts and civil wars, the Federal Aviation Administration says it frequently updates its restricted flight instructions.

Appearing at a Monday National Press Club luncheon, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the agency is "constantly in touch with our intelligence community, with our national security team, on these issues" and continues "to monitor the international situation to ensure that U.S. commercial carriers are given the best guidance possible."

The FAA process is being highlighted by last week's downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, which occurred in an area that wasn't restricted. After the plane was shot down, the agency said in a July 17 statement that most airlines "have voluntarily agreed not to operate in the airspace near the Russian-Ukraine border."

Currently, American airlines are "prohibited" from flying over Iraq, Somalia, North Korea, and Libya. Afghanistan and Iran are considered "potentially hostile regions," according to a list compiled by The Washington Post. 

The FAA said in the July 17 statement that an April notice was issued that U.S. flight operations were prohibited "until further notice in the airspace over the Crimean region of Ukraine, and portions adjacent to the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov." Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine earlier this year.

But, the agency said, the notice about restricted airspace "does not currently cover the airspace where Malaysian Air flight 17 crashed."

"At the time of the crash, there were no restrictions in place for any commercial flights above 32,000 feet in the area where MH17 crashed," Peter Hollingsworth, a lecture in aerospace engineering at the University of Manchester, wrote in the Post.

"While it is difficult to determine whether Malaysia Airlines improperly assessed the risk associated with flying over the disputed areas of eastern Ukraine, there was certainly no consensus that commercial flights on established air-traffic routes, flying above 32,000 feet in the region, were at risk," Hollingsworth wrote.

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