Portal shares info on airspace risks

UN site updates airlines, travellers on conflict zones

TRAVELLERS, airlines and other stakeholders can now access an online portal for data on flight restrictions and conflict zones.

The initiative, which was launched by the United Nations' civil aviation arm, is in response to calls for more information gathering and sharing following last July's tragedy when a Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down over Ukraine where rebels were fighting the government.

"(The online portal) will provide up-to-date information on potential risks to civil aviation arising from armed conflict," said the UN's International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

In line with global aviation norms, the onus is on countries embroiled in conflict to advise the aviation community on potential dangers. Other countries, aware of such risks, can also ask for the information to be uploaded onto the portal. But the affected country will have the chance to review and approve the information before it is made public.

ICAO president Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu said the portal "does respond to the strong international consensus... that the safety of our worldwide network would benefit from greater information sharing on conflict zone risks".

It is a good idea to have a central location for information affecting flights to be gathered and distributed, said retired US airline pilot John Cox, who runs his own consultancy.

Before the ICAO portal was set up, the procedure was for flight notices and restrictions, as well as advisories issued by states for their own airspace, to be made available to all carriers through the Aeronautical Fixed Telecommunication Network. But the system is difficult to use, he said.

Other experts agreed the portal will help airlines make informed decisions on flight paths.

However, operations manager Winnie Ng, 26, said it would be better if information from airlines on their flight paths was more accessible to travellers like her. "If I'm going from city A to B, I don't know how to find out from the airline which countries my plane is going to fly over," she said.

karam@sph.com.sg