Pilots of commercial aircraft are informed about special situations by so called Notice To Airman or NOTAM. NOTAMs are published by air traffic control centres. Before each flight the cockpit crew is briefed about NOTAM’s by the flight dispatcher. NOTAMs inform for example about closure of runways (due to maintenance) and closures of airspace (due to an airshow or other event).
In the days before July 17 several Ukraine military aircraft were shot down by MANPADs. In at least one shot down a much more powerfull Surface to Air Missile (SAM) was used as that aircraft was flying at a higher altitude than MANPADs can reach.
While Russia Air Traffic Control warned about combat actions and firing in the area of East Ukraine, the Ukraine ATC did not mention Combat actions in their NOTAMS. The NOTAMs issued by Ukraine also did not mention that an aircraft was shot down using SAM at July 14.
Washington Post published an article about this lack of crucial information here.
Lets have a look at the NOTAMs released in July.
First we look at the NOTAMs released by Ukraine ATC. Then we look at the NOTAMs issued in Russia.
NOTAMs published by Ukraine ATC
At July 1 Ukraine ATC published a NOTAM identified as A1383/14. This NOTAM restricts the airspace over East Ukraine up to level FL260. No reason is provided for the restriction.
At July 14 an Ukraine Air Force Antonov 26 transport plane was shot down while flying at an altitude of 6500meters. The aircraft was flying near the Russian border and was bringing troops and food to supply Ukraine troops. As 6500 meters is out of reach for MANPADs the Antonov must have been shot down by a more advanced weapon.
As a result of this shot down the Ukraine ATC decided to increase the minimum safe altitude to FL 320.
At July 14 Ukraine ATC released NOTAM identified by A1492/14. This NOTAM increased the prohibited altitude to flightlevel 32.000 feet(FL320) . The NOTAM mentioned the coordinates of the closed area.
Also at July 14 Ukraine ATC released another NOTAM identified by A1493/14. This NOTAM lists the parts of airways over East Ukraine which are closed up to flightlevel 320.
At July 17 at 14:56 UTC the Ukraine Air Traffic Control published a NOTAM A1507/14 restricting to all flightlevels. This NOTAM was a direct result of the shot down of MH17.
John Illson is Chief of the ICAO Integrated Safety Management Section, which is responsible for
development of international safety management Standards.
In a presentation John Illson showed this timeline of events and NOTAMs.
NOTAMs published by Russian ATC
The Russian airspace next to East Ukraine is controlled by Rostov ATC.
At July 16, 17:08 ATC (so before MH17 crashed) Rostov ATC released a NOTAM identified by number V6158/14. The NOTAM clearly indicates that airways are closed up to Flightlevel 320 because of Combat actions.
V6158/14 – DUE TO COMBAT ACTIONS ON THE TERRITORY OF THE UKRAINE NEAR THE STATE BORDER WITH THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION AND THE FACTS OF FIRING FROM THE TERRITORY OF THE UKRAINE TOWARDS THE TERRITORY OF RUSSIAN FEDERATION, TO ENSURE INTL FLT SAFETY, ATS RTE SEGMENTS CLSD AS FLW: A100 MIMRA – ROSTOV-NA-DONU VOR/DME (RND) , B145 KANON – ASMIL, G247 MIMRA – BAGAYEVSKIY NDB (BA), A87 TAMAK – SARNA, A102 PENEG – NALEM, A225 GUKOL – ODETA, A712 TAMAK – SAMBEK NDB (SB), B493 FASAD – ROSTOV-NA-DONU VOR/DME (RND), B947 TAMAK – ROSTOV-NA-DONU VOR/DME (RND), G118 LATRI – BAGAYEVSKIY NDB (BA), G534 MIMRA – TOROS, G904 FASAD – SUTAG, R114 BAGAYEVSKIY NDB (BA)-NALEM. SFC – FL320. DEP FM/ARR TO ROSTOV-NA-DONU AD TO/FM MOSCOW FIR CARRIED OUT ALONG ATS RTE G128 KONSTANTINOVSK NDB (KA) – MOROZOVSK VOR/DME (MOR) AND R11 MOROZOVSK VOR/DME (MOR) – BUTRI ON ASSIGNED FL. DEP FM ROSTOV-NA-DONU AD TO DNEPROPETROVSK FIR CARRIED OUT ALONG ATS RTE A102 KONSTANTINOVSK NDB (KA) – NALEM ON FL340 AND ABOVE. ARR TO ROSTOV-NA-DONU AD FM DNEPROPETROVSK FIR CARRIED OUT ALONG ATS RTE A712 TAMAK – SAMBEK NDB (SB) THEN DCT KONSTANTINOVSK NDB (KA) ON FL330 AND ABOVE. SFC – FL530, 17 JUL 00:00 2014 UNTIL 31 AUG 23:59 2014 ESTIMATED. CREATED: 16 JUL 17:08
The original NOTAMs are not available anymore in online systems because these are expired and replaced by new ones. However, the NOTAMs published by Ukraine ATC are published on the site of the Dutch Government.
The NOTAMs issued by Russia were originally taken from the FAA site.
This blog has information on the Ukraine NOTAMs.