Tuesday, 15 July 2014

High over eastern Ukraine

Yesterday's news that long-range anti-aircraft rockets, apparently fired from Russia, downed a Ukrainian transport plane flying at 21,000ft, is worrying. Today, a Ukrainian jet bombed alleged 'separatists' in Snizhne, near Donetsk. Take a look at eastern Ukraine on FlightRadar24.com, and you'll see a procession of civilian aircraft flying along an air corridor between Luhansk, Donetsk, Horlivka, Kramatorsk - places where battles are raging and people are being killed. Yet blithely oblivious to what's happening on the ground, some of the world's largest civilian airliners are criss-crossing the area at 38,000ft.

Below: a Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A330, followed by a Singapore Airlines Airbus A380, flying over the battlefields below. Other planes from India, Malaysia, Qatar, Austria, Germany are also overflying this area (click to enlarge). Son Eddie reminds me of the shooting down of Iran Air Flight 655 by a guided missile from the USS Vincennes over the Persian Gulf in 1988 resulting in the death of 290 people.

Below: let's take a closer look at the flight path of that A380... I don't think flying over a warzone in a passenger jet with several hundred people on board is a good idea. Incidentally, Russian airlines flying to Simferopol in Russian-occupied Crimea, as well as other Black Sea airports to the east, are skirting around eastern Ukrainian today - something they weren't doing yesterday. Before the shoot-down of the transport plane, they'd fly directly over Ukraine, the shortest air route from the Black Sea to Moscow and St Petersburg. Today, they are avoiding Ukrainian airspace east of Dnepropetrovsk and Kharkiv.

Shouldn't there be a no-fly zone for civilian passenger jets? Ukraine has maintained a ground exclusion zone around Chernobyl since independence - should it not, for the sake of the safety of tens of thousands of passengers flying overhead each day, close off the airspace around the conflict zone?

A look at eastern Ukraine and southern Russia shows other interesting things. Plenty of Russian airliners flying holidaymakers to the sun. Russian carrier Transaero, for example, is flying Boeing 747s to resorts like Antalaya or Paphos, each carrying 400+ passengers. The scale of this movement suggests that Russia's new middle class is taking to the air in huge numbers to enjoy itself - spending its money on the Med. These well-off, liberal, cosmopolitan people, meshed into the global economy, are the the counter-balance to the nationalists baying for Putin to invade 'Novorossiya'.

The airline industry is global; to be a member, you need to follow its established rules, which are principally related to safety. (As I pointed out the other day, air travel is 50 times safer than driving, twice as safe as going by train.) And looking at Russia on FlightRadar24.com, I see hardly any aircraft built in Russia or indeed the USSR. Maybe the old kit isn't equipped with modern transponders and thus doesn't show up on FlightRadar24.com. I spotted the occasional Tupolev, Antonov, Yakovlev or Ilyushin - but even over Russia, these are rarities.

To stay solvent in a competitive world, Russian airlines need to fly planes that their customers will not feel uneasy about - and that narrows the choice down to Airbus or Boeing. In a world such as this, there's little room for economic nationalism. Good. If there were ever to be an economic embargo on Russia, these planes would soon be grounded for lack of spare parts.

Below: apropos of Tupolevs, I caught this one over my house this morning, flying the Slovakian president to Warsaw. Now a very rare sight over Jeziorki.

Below: noisy and dirty, the TU-154 (first flight 1968) is a relic of a passing age where environmental standards were last in a list of the design bureau's considerations.

I wonder whether I'll see one again... In the meanwhile, (and totally off-topic) here's an even older design, a Fokker 50 (OO-VLS, City of Antwerp), essentially a modernised Fokker Friendship, which first took to the skies in 1955. Now that Air Baltic has stopped using these, it's another rare visitor to Okęcie. I caught it over my house yesterday evening from my bedroom window.

Incidentally, today 21 Muscovites were killed in an accident on the Moscow Metro. It will be interesting to see what the cause of the accident was - officially a 'power surge'.

This time last year:
From shouted slogans to practical policy

This time two years ago:
Who should pay for railways?
[A good question to ask any would-be politician]

This time four years ago:
Grunwald - the big picture

This time five years ago:
"Take me right back to the track, Jack"

This time seven years ago:
The summer sublime

1 comment:

DC said...