July 17, 2014 at 9:52 pm

Malaysia Airlines flight route declared safe, but U.S., Europe warned of risks

Above: Wreckage of the Boeing 777 is strewn for miles in eastern Ukraine. (Dmitry Lovetsky / AP)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia— The flight route for the Malaysia Airlines jetliner that went down in Ukraine had been declared safe by the global civil aviation body, Malaysia’s prime minister said.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, who addressed a news conference after speaking with leaders of Ukraine, the Netherlands, and President Barack Obama, said the aircraft flight route was declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organization. The International Air Transportation Association had also stated that the air space that the aircraft was traversing was not subject to restrictions, he said. The plane did not make any distress call, he added.

The Federal Aviation Administration had warned U.S. pilots earlier this year not to fly over portions of the Ukraine in the Crimea region, according to notices posted on the agency’s website.

The notices were posted on April 23. The U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization and the aviation authorities in most countries issue similar notices for areas where unrest or military conflict creates a risk of being shot down.

The European Aviation Safety Agency published an advisory highlighting the possibility of “serious risks to the safety of international civil flights” due to air traffic control disputes in the area.

A former head of airports security group BAA suggested that many airlines including Malaysia Airlines had continued to use the route despite warnings because it was shorter and cheaper.

“It is a busy aviation route,” said Norman Shanks, who is also professor of aviation security at Coventry University in England.

“But Malaysia Airlines, like a number of other carriers, have been continuing to use it because it is a shorter route, which means less fuel and therefore less money,” he told The Associated Press.

Several international airlines said Thursday that they were rerouting flights around eastern Ukrainian airspace in the wake of the incident.

At least five airlines — Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France, Turkish Airlines and Russian airline Transaero — said they would avoid airspace over eastern Ukraine.

In April, European and American aviation officials warned commercial airlines about the risks of flying over Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in the midst of disputes between Ukraine and Russia, which seized the peninsula.

In a statement, Air France said its planes had not been flying over Crimea since April 3. The company said it was monitoring the situation “in real time” and has decided not to fly its planes over eastern Ukraine.

A spokeswoman for German airline Lufthansa said that although Ukrainian airspace had not been restricted, the company had decided to fly a “wide detour” around the region, effective immediately. “The safety of our passengers is our top priority,” airline spokeswoman Christina Semmel said.

In a recorded message, a British Airways spokeswoman said the airline’s flights were not using Ukrainian airspace, with the exception of its once-daily service between London’s Heathrow airport and Kiev. It said the airline was keeping its service “under review” but noted that Kiev was several hundred miles from the crash site.

Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times contributed.