Did Russian airlines illegally use East-Ukraine airspace on July 24 2014

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Data provided by Flightradar24 and published by German investigative newsdesk Correctiv shows Russian airlines still operating in Eastern Ukraine airspace days after it was closed on July 17 2014, soon after MH17 was shotdown by a BUK missile.

I blogged about this in January 2015.

I contacted Eurocontrol to verify if Russian airlines indeed used the closed airspace as shown by the Correctiv graphics. Eurocontrol was not able to provide any definitive confirmation of flights flying in the closed airspace of Eastern Ukraine following the MH17 incident.

Eurocontrol categorically state that no flight plans originating within their area of responsibility or entering their area from externally would not have been accepted due to the airspace closure that was implemented in Eurocontrol systems on the evening of the 17th July 2014.

While Eurocontrol could not confirm the flights used closed airspace over Eastern Ukraine, it seems very unlikely Flightradar24 or Correctiv made an error or falsified data.

So what does this mean?

Operations departments of various Russian airlines were aware the airspace over Eastern Ukraine was safe. This could mean Russian authorities were fully aware who was responsible for the downing of MH17 and that it would not happen again.

Also, as the airspace was closed, Russian airlines illegallly used the airspace.

I hope to be able to verify these flights indeed took place.

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13 Comments on Did Russian airlines illegally use East-Ukraine airspace on July 24 2014

  1. First, Correctiv are liars. Second, imagine that Russia’s MoD informs “various Russian airlines” that it is safe to fly over Donbass; or that “various Russian airlines” are asking MoD whether it is safe to fly there.

  2. James O'Neill // August 30, 2016 at 4:19 am // Reply

    “Operations departments………would not happen again.”
    This is pure speculation, even if Correctiv were a reliable source. It could with equal validity be said that if the flights occurred the operators did not think the Ukrainians would be stupid enough to pull the same stunt twice. Or other possibilities.

  3. sotilaspassi // August 30, 2016 at 5:32 am // Reply

    “This could mean Russian authorities were fully aware who was responsible for the downing of MH17 and that it would not happen again”

    IMO, it indeed looks like it, IF the info is correct.
    (+RU has little poor respect vs neighbor sovereign nation airspace)

  4. Daniel Been // August 30, 2016 at 9:38 am // Reply

    Is this not making the same mistake as RT with FlightAware?

    Ukraine had NO or little ADS-B coverage in that region. All these fancy flight databases are showing in those cases are flight plans and data provided (often later) by the various airports themselves.

    Play back actual ADS-B for July 14 2014 for yourself to get an idea:

    For this kind of information much deeper research is needed to be certain what was in the air that day at that location. Don’t think with some online checkers the “truth” pops out! But it’s so easy to publish though, without much verification, without any expert, localized views or multiple sources..

    • The data as shown by Correctiv was sourced by Flightradar24.
      Flightradar24 does have ADS-B stations in the region. So it cannot be compared to Flightaware.

      Now I have seen some weird flightpaths of individual flights in FR24. I agree verification is needed. However that is pretty difficult as for instance FR24 does not provide the data for 2014 anymore.
      And I am not sure if the Ukraine ATC UkSATSE will respond to queries about this. Might try.

      • “Flightradar24 does have ADS-B stations in the region”

        Do you have a source or reference, showing the situation for July 2014 in East Ukraine? What about the link I provided (planefinder) which uses only ADS-B reports. Don’t they use largely the same network? If you go back in planefinder to July 2014 it’s clear there’s hardly anything at all from ADS-B point of view. So my question is: which are the sources then for other data? Radar data? Manual read-outs of responders after landing? Flightplans, submitted flight reports? According to FAQs: all of the above. Obviously the Russian airliners might show up differently if that’s the case.

        In my view it remains very vague and conclusions are very hasty drawn.

        • Flightradar, Planefinder, FR24 all uses their own stations to recieve ADS-B and forward it to the planetrackers. Coverage of FR24 is best worldwide.
          There is no other source for these trackers AFAIK.
          The accuracy depends. Sometimes there is no ADS-B signal and MLAT is used.

          The only other option for Russian airlines not using the airspace over Eastern Ukraine is mistakes in FR24 data or fraud.

  5. Quote: “Operations departments of various Russian airlines were aware the airspace over Eastern Ukraine was safe. This could mean Russian authorities were fully aware who was responsible for the downing of MH17 and that it would not happen again.”

    I’d not expect the mentioned operations departments or Russian air traffic management to have any spy or military recon informations regarding MH17.

    • No, airlines do not have spy information. Large airlines do have a department which monitors airspace, weather and all stuff related to guarantee a safe operation.
      US intel agencies are in close contact with US airlines. These are briefed about safety issues at airports or in airspace.
      It is very likely this happens in Russia as well. So it could be Russian officials told airlines that they could use the airspace.

      I am not saying this is a fact. We need to make sure these flights indeed took place. Correctiv most have the source data.

  6. Sorry for a Noob question: what are the consequences for an airline flying through forbidden airspace?

    Did the Russian airlines think (or were told so by their Kremlin handlers) that the Ukrainians don’t have their own shop under control, and could take the shortest route, even if that was illegal?

  7. It is not solely Correctiv who publishes strange things (to put it mildly). In 2014, we all read this article by The Associated Press:
    It was published on July 25, 2014; written by Yuras Karmanau and Peter Leonard. In particular, they wrote: “A highly placed rebel, speaking to the AP this week, admitted that rebels were responsible”. Later: “According to the account of the rebel official… Sapper had been sent that day [17 July] to inspect three checkpoints – in the towns of Debaltsevo, Chernukhino and Snizhne… At some point in these travels, he joined up with the convoy accompanying the missile launch system”.
    My guess is that the weird story of Sapper “inspecting three checkpoints” was composed to somehow explain as to why in the recordings that SBU had made public on 17 July the rebels talked about Sapper’s group and Chernukhino’s Cossaks as those who had downed the plane. Naturally, those two groups could not have done it both – either one or another; then, ordinary militia men were incapable of shooting down an aircraft at the altitude of 10000 meters. Thus, we are fed with a story that connects them all – the missile system, Sapper’s group and Chernukhino’s Cossaks.
    Also, in early July, Girkin/Strelkov denounced Sapper as a traitor, after Sapper and his group abandoned their positions near Slavyansk and thus undermined the separatists’ efforts to defend that town:
    In this article, Sapper and two other separatists are called “traitors” and “former comrades”. And what, two weeks later Sapper was trusted with an important mission of inspecting checkpoints?

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