MH Flight 17, The Israeli Flight Ban and the Future of Aviation Security

By: , Posted on: July 25, 2014

Of all the tragedies in a war, the most unfortunate is the loss of innocent lives. We see the human drama played out nightly in the conflicts between Russian separatists in the Ukraine, and elements of Hamas and the Israeli Defense Forces in the Gaza Strip, not to mention plenty of other places throughout the world. A certain degree of innocent suffering is expected for those who live in the area of the conflict, but rarely does it reach into the skies to affect those who have nothing to do with the war below.

Ironically, I learned of the MH17 incident no more than 30 seconds after completing a lecture on the danger of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles to commercial aircraft, in an airport security course I was teaching for the American Association of Airport Executives in Alexandria, Virginia. For a moment I thought I was going to have to eat my words when I mentioned that very few civil aircraft have been downed by a shoulder-fired missile, but then we quickly learned that this flight was most likely taken out of the sky by a vehicle mounted radar homing missile, not the manned portable air defense system that we commonly discuss in the aviation security threat matrix.

There have been several incidents of civil aircraft being shot down either by military aircraft or by surface-to-air missiles (SAM). Most often, these were aircraft that had drifted into another country’s airspace and were mistakenly identified as a military aircraft intrusion, or there was a malfunction of military equipment. In a few rare cases, aircraft have been downed intentionally by a SAM and, in a 2002 incident over Mombasa, Kenya, terrorists fired two MANPADs at an El Al flight, but both missiles missed. Several incidents of an aircraft being intentionally shot at took place in a war zone, as in the case of a DHL flight being hit with a MANPAD over Baghdad in 2003.

MANPAD-Practical-Aviation-Security-Fig11-2
Anatomy of an MANPAD (manned portable air defense system Source: Practical Aviation Security, 2nd Edition, Figure 11-2

When we addressed the threat of an aircraft being shot down in our book, Practical Aviation Security: Predicting and Preventing Future Threats, we only approached it from the manned portable air defense surface to air missile variant, not vehicle, boat or air launched missiles. Our rationale was that the MANPAD is more available through illicit means, whereas the large military platforms and the more sophisticated radar-homing (and other types of missiles) are typically beyond the garden-variety terrorist or criminal.

The downing of Malaysia Flight 17 by a military surface-to-air missile and the most recent flight restrictions and airline cancellations into Ben-Gurion International Airport expand the scope of aviation security into some new areas. These two incidents are also highly related…

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About the Author

jeff priceJeff Price (@Av_Security) is lead author of Practical Aviation Security: Predicting and Preventing Future Threats, now in its second edition.He is one of the world’s leading experts in aviation security, often called upon by major media to comment on aviation safety and security issues. He is Professor of Aviation Security at Metropolitan State University of Denver, former Assistant Security Director of Denver International Airport and a former airport director.

A commercially certificated pilot, he has authored several certification programs on aviation security and airport management and is the owner of Leading Edge Strategies, an aviation management training and consulting company.

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