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Safe for Indian aircraft to over-fly Afghanistan-Pakistan region, Iraq?

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With criticism mounting against Indian carrier Air India for over-flying Ukraine despite indications that it may have been risky, this week attention also focused on whether Indian authorities ought to reconsider airline flight paths crossing the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and perhaps Iraq.

Speaking to  The Hindu John Goglia, an aviation safety expert in the U.S., said that some Western carriers do avoid this region and there was little doubt about the presence of MANPADS, or man-portable air-defence systems, in the area.

Malaysian Airlines 17 was brought down over eastern Ukraine on July 17 using a sophisticated missile system such as the SA-11 or SA-17 Buk 2, which according to reports is “fielded by a number of countries.”

Unlike MANPADS the Buk surface-to-air missile (SAM) system requires either a wheeled or a tracked chassis and “can engage aircraft at anywhere from altitudes of roughly 32 feet to 78,000 feet, putting flight MH17 easily within range,” the Washington Post reported.

Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution said to  The Hindu, “The good news is, no, SA11s are not available [in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and] MANPADS SAMs cannot hit civilian aircraft at their usual flying altitude, but they can at take off and landing when they are very vulnerable.”

However when asked about the risk to Indian carriers’ current flight paths Mr. Riedel noted, “No one should overfly war zones,” and Mr. Goglia suggested that Indian government officials “do have to make that assessment,” about whether risk of attack is low enough to warrant overflying the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

As of Saturday Air India’s interactive flight paths map showed numerous flights from New Delhi to destinations in Europe including London, Paris and Zurich overflying Pakistan as well as Afghanistan.

Another AI flight from New Delhi to Addis Ababa overflew parts of Yemen, not far from areas engulfed by conflict in recent years.

Questions about Indian carriers’ flight paths came even as strategic commentator Brahma Chellaney said on Twitter, “When U.S. missiles to Afghan rebels downed civilian airliners – 21/09/1984: no deaths; 04/09/1985: 52 dead; 10/04/1988: 29 dead.”

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 11:07:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/safe-for-indian-aircraft-to-overfly-afghanistanpakistan-region-iraq/article6229216.ece

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