British Airways Owner Wants Route Powers Even Amid Missile Peril

British Airways parent IAG SA said it’s vital airlines retain discretion over which routings they take as the industry considers more stringent rules for flights over war-zones after the downing of Malaysian Air Flight 17.

Carriers should retain autonomy while sharing information, said Willie Walsh, chief executive officer at IAG, whose BA unit diverted planes away from eastern Ukraine well before the loss of MH17 while continuing flights into Tel Aviv even after European and U.S. authorities recommended services cease.

“We base our decisions on facts and hard information,” Walsh said. “There are a lot of differences that can only be factored in by the individual airline and that’s why it’s important that each airline has its own process in place. It would be helpful if it was easy for us to share that.”

The United Nations-backed International Civil Aviation Organization said this week it will form a task force to address lapses in security and help resolve confusion about the safety of operations over combat zones. While nations can close airspace and ICAO and other industry bodies issue advisories, the onus placed on airlines to reach their own decisions mean some continue flying over disputed areas while others detour.

“We have a very mature process,” Walsh said on a conference call on IAG’s quarterly earnings. “We have experts that spend all of their time assessing the risk and we constantly look at our operation and assess whether it is safe or unsafe. If we identify any areas where we consider it to be unsafe we will stop flying there, it’s as simple as that.”

Tel Aviv Holdout

British Airways continued serving Israel’s Ben Gurion airport last week after the European Aviation Safety Agency advised against flying and American carriers were barred from operating by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. BA sister company Iberia meanwhile complied with Easa’s recommendation.

BA also limited its use of Ukrainian airspace well in advance of the MH17 loss in a suspected missile attack, with charts of the U.K. carrier’s flight-routings to Asia showing aircraft steering well to the north or south of the war-zone.

The airline industry’s approach to trouble-spots continues to vary, with Air France-KLM Group among carriers saying this week that they’d avoid skies over Iraq amid global concern that Islamic State militants may have got hold of anti-aircraft missiles of the kind thought to have downed the Malaysian jet.

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways PJSC said it would continue flying and that there’s no evidence the militants have an anti-aircraft capability that poses a threat to high-altitude planes.

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