Updated article April 30: I initially understood only UA48 used East Ukraine Airspace. However several other United Airlines used the airspace irregulary.
Some airlines like British Airways and Air France avoided Ukraine airspace soon after Russian forces captured Crimea. In the end the airspace over Crimea was closed. However airspace over East Ukraine was declared save by the Ukraine authorities. Many airlines continued to operate over East Ukraine airspace despite MANPADs being used to down military aircraft. Many airlines believed because of the range of these MANPADS flights operating above 5000 meters were saved.
This changed at July 14 when an Antonov 26 of the Ukraine Air Force was shot down while flying at 6500 meters. The weapon used is unconfirmed till today. Ukraine government states it was an air to air missile. Others believe it was a surface to air missile launched from Russia.
In the afternoon of July 17 several ambassadors of western countries and the US were briefed by the Ukraine government. The Ukraine government mentioned the shotdown of the Antonov and said this could only be done by Russian forces or Russian equipement in hands of the separatists.
This map made by German magazine Der Spiegel shows the airlines overflying East Ukraine between July 10 and July 17.
Note both United Airlines and FedEx overflew 5 times the area.
Despite this serious change of weapon systems almost all airlines continued to use East Ukraine airspace. Even Ukraine International Airlines and Dniproavia (both Ukraine airlines) continued.
However at least one airline avoided use East Ukraine airspace after July 14. United Airlines flight UA48 from New York Newark to Bombay (India) was last seen over East Ukraine at July 14. This daily flight used a different routing since July 14.
The screenshot below is based on Planefinder data.It shows UA48 barely an hour after MH17 was shot down.
Not all details are available as I do not have Flightradar data. However RTL supplied some information:
UA48 did not fly over East Ukraine at July 11,12 and 13
UA48 flew over East Ukraine at July 14. UA49, UA82, UA802 (Dubai-Washington) and UA891 flew between July 11 and July 13 over East Ukraine
At July 15,16 and 17 United did not fly over East Ukraine.
United Airlines was asked by Dutch NOS why it changed routes. The airline was not willing to tell. However it stated that safety of passengers and employees is their top priority. “We only use routes of which we are sure these are safe. We base this on information we receive from relevant authorities and our own indications which we regulary check.”
In the first plenary debat in Dutch parliament the Minister of Foreign Affairs Van der Scheur told the Members of Parliament that employees of the ministry had contact by phone with United Airlines. United Airlines said “it has not planned flights in the period from July 13 to July 17. So that is the reason they did not change flights. See the debat transcript here.
To check this we need historical data of Flightradar. Unfortunately Flightradar does not provide this information for the public.
United Airlines used East Ukraine airspace irregulary. . There are 2 likely reasons for not operating over East Ukraine after July 14:
- Because of the safety concerns. United Airlines was likely warned by US Intelligence services to avoid Ukraine airspace. UA48 flew a different route starting the evening of July 14 when it departed New York.
- Because of other reasons like weather.
To be sure we need to have a look at the routes of United Airlines flights before July 14.
Another American airline using East Ukraine airspace was FedEx. FDX5279 (Paris – Memphis) flew over Ukraine at July 14. Unknown is if this was a daily flight and when the airline stopped using East Ukraine airspace.
To be continued