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MH17 Crash Prompts Airlines to Rethink Routes

Debris at the site of Thursday's Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash, near the village of Grabovo in Ukraine's Donetsk region, July 18, 2014.

Airlines are routing planes around Ukraine after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down Thursday with the loss of nearly 300 people on board.

The conflict in Ukraine had raised concerns before the incident, but Malaysia's prime minister , Najib Razak said the route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was declared safe by international aviation officials. Some carriers were concerned enough to change their routes weeks ago while other airlines changed flight plans after the crash.

In a Skype interview, aviation expert David Fuscus, of Xenophon Strategies, says airlines have to cope with many conflict areas including Afghanistan and parts of the Middle East.

"There are about 58,000 flight routes around the globe that are used almost every day; it is very, very common to fly over areas of conflict," said Fuscus.

An expert in air traffic control, Professor Brent Spencer, of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona, said in a VOA interview that airline managers and pilots have some discretion about their routes.

“That’s pretty much up to the airline whether or not they want to take the chance, whether to fly through that air space or spend the extra money [for fuel] to fly around it," said Spencer.

Extra flying time and fuel costs are problems for the airline industry, which is gradually recovering from soaring fuel prices and a recession that cut ticket sales.

Both Fuscus and Spencer say the attack on MH17 was a tragic but rare incident that probably will not bring fundamental changes to the way airlines operate.