Task force to step up flight safety

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LEADERS OF aviation bodies across the world have launched an international task force to deal with the threat to passenger planes from ground-based weaponry following the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

Industry and state experts from all corners of the globe will man a team examining how intelligence on the safety of planes could be effectively gathered and passed on to all those affected to address “troubling concerns” over flying over war zones which were raised by the disaster.

The downing of flight MH17 which killed 298 people, 10 of whom were British nationals, is thought to have been caused by a missile strike fired as the plane flew over Ukraine.

Speaking following a gathering of aviation chiefs at the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) headquarters in Montreal, secretary general Raymond Benjamin said the work of the task force would ensure “the right information reaches the right people at the right time”.

It is expected to provide pilots with more information on when it is safe to fly over conflict areas, something which critics say currently lacks clear guidance.

He said: “All parties have agreed that ICAO has an important role to play in the post-MH17 aviation world. There is a need for information and intelligence.

“It is a highly complex and politically-sensitive area.”

Confusion surrounding flight over war zones has been evident in the wake of the Malaysia Airlines disaster, with some airlines continuing to fly over war-torn areas that other carriers shun.

“Countries are being made aware of their responsibilities regarding risks involved in flying certain routes,” added Mr Benjamin.

Welcoming the announcement, Jeff Poole, director general of the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation, said: “The downing of Flight MH17 raises vital questions about the safety of aircraft over conflict zones.

“We need authoritative, accurate and consistent decisions from the appropriate authorities.”

The British Airline Pilots’ Association called the establishment of the international task force a “reassuring” move.

General secretary Jim McAuslan said: “It is reassuring that the UN aviation body and airlines accept that there is a problem with the lack of clear, uniform rules and information.

“What we need now is action. The flawed current system allowed 298 innocent passengers, pilots and crew to become targets in a war and pilots want to see a solid and serious solution to stop this ever happening again.”

“We will be asking the British Government to lead the way and urgently push for a safety-first approach that would protect British passengers whatever airline they are flying with and wherever they are travelling.”

Yesterday’s conference coincided with Prime Minister David Cameron’s meeting with seven of the families of the 10 Brit victims killed in the July 17 airline disaster.

Barry and Angela Sweeney, parents of Liam Sweeney, a Newcastle United football fan travelling on board MH17, told Mr Cameron they were “angry and frustrated” that their 28-year-old son’s body had not yet been returned to them, and that they 
did not even know whether his remains were still in the Ukraine or had been flown back to Holland.

Mr Sweeney, 52, said: “We basically asked Mr Cameron just to help. It would be nice if they could just stop fighting for a little bit so that we could get all our boys and girls home.”