Friday, July 18, 2014

NOTAMs and Malaysia Airlines MH17

Or, perhaps, an explanation of what the no-fly areas are in and
around Ukraine, when they were established and what it all has to do
with Malaysia Airlines MH17. Much discussion earlier today suggested
that the plane was flying in a restricted airspace it should not have
been in. Every bit of documentation I’ve found so far suggests that is
not the case at all. And so I present the three NOTAMs (Notice to Airmen) which cover the area and try to explain how it all relates.

SFAR 113

First up is Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) 113 covering the Simferopol region.
This NOTAM was issued on 23 April 2014 for a period of one year. Around
noon EDT today multiple reports suggested that this NOTAM prohibited
flights in the area where MH17 was last reported flying. That is simply
not the case. I’ve mapped out the waypoints identified in the NOTAM and
also shown the last airborne location reported by the aircraft.

Crimea NOTAM zone

Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

As you can see, the plane (red dot on the map) was not in the restricted space.

A1492/14 @ UKDV

On 14 July 2014 a new NOTAM was issued specific to the Dnipropetrovsk
region. In that NOTAM the eastern edge of Ukrainian airspace was marked
as off limits, but the NOTAM also was only applicable for FL260 – FL320
meaning for operations between 26,000 and 32,000 feet. The Boeing
777-200 operating as MH17 was approaching the specified area for this
NOTAM but was flying at FL330, above the restricted space. It was not
violating the NOTAM restrictions at that time.

The newer NOTAM restriction zone

Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.


At 14:56 UTC today another NOTAM was issued with the exact same
coordinates as the one from earlier in the week. The new NOTAM extends
the prior one by including all operations from FL320 up to “UNL” meaning
unlimited altitude. Essentially eastern Ukraine is now a no-fly zone.
This NOTAM was put in place after MH17 went down.

I certainly don’t know all the answers to what happened with MH17 and
I’m pretty sure no one else does quite yet either. But these are a few
facts which I hope help clarify the questions surrounding the NOTAMs and
which areas were restricted from commercial traffic or not.

On a more personal note, tragedies like these are always tough to
process. The part where it turns out I am closer than I would have ever
guessed to knowing people who were on the plane and who should have been
on the plane but were bumped because it was overbooked makes it even
harder. This is a pretty messed up world we live in right now.

Also, thanks to Stephan, Ron and others for helping me clarify the
NOTAMs. I was pretty sure I understood but I very much appreciate the
extra explanation.

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