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KUALA LUMPUR: Former Transport Minister Tan Sri Ong Tee Keat has called for the UN civil aviation body, ICAO, to step up its role to prevent future tragedies such as MH370 and MH17 from occurring.

ICAO is the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a specialised agency under the auspices of United Nations to develop international standards and recommended practices for national civil aviation regulations.

"The downing of MH17 jetliner is tragic. In the face of such a tragedy, it’s time for ICAO to provide leadership as it is the UN regulatory body overseeing civil aviation," he said.

"Before the incident, no advisory had been issued by ICAO on the risk of flying over Ukraine’s airspace, especially over the war zone in the East. After the occurrence of the tragedy, much to the chagrin of the international community, the ICAO has yet to break its deafening silence."

Ong was commenting on the fact that nearly two weeks after the downing of MH17, ICAO has yet to convene an emergency meeting of its executive council, a step it took after a Soviet jet shot down a South Korean airliner in 1983 and a US cruiser downed an Iranian passenger jet in 1988. Ong was the Minister of Transport who was instrumental in getting Malaysia enrolled as a member with ICAO.

"Given the hindsight benefits of MH17, MAS should review its traditional dependency on ICAO," he added.

Commenting on the fingers pointed at MAS for flying over Ukraine, Ong said, "…guns should not be pointed at MAS as it is not the only airline flying over Ukraine airspace. It was just one of the hundreds of flights using the sanctioned route".

Ong also said that Ukraine’s air traffic control should take some responsibility for giving Malaysia Airlines clearance to fly in its airspace.

"Ukraine’s ATC still owes the international community a clear explanation and justification on why MH17 was directed to fly at a lower altitude of 33,000 feet instead of the pre-determined altitude of 35,000 feet.

"I raise this not for the sake of splitting hairs but rather in line with the common wish worldwide of leaving no stone unturned in probing the real cause of the tragedy," Ong said.

"Malaysia should not be made a sacrificial lamb in the geopolitical conflict involving Russia, Ukraine, US and its allies.

"The perpetrators responsible for the incident must be brought to justice as they had committed an inhumane, despicable and uncivilised crime in shooting down the civilian jetliner."

Meanwhile, two Members of Parliament (MP) have called for a review of how Malaysia deals with ICAO’s advisory.

Pokok Sena MP Datuk Mahfuz Omar expressed his worry and said MAS should conduct its own independent risk analysis of the route.

"Don’t rely solely on ICAO. I want the government to look into this to ensure that we can secure the safety of our planes," he said.

Seremban MP Anthony Loke also shared Mahfuz’s sentiments, urging MAS not to rely on ICAO’S guidelines entirely.

"ICAO had also released a statement that it is not within its jurisdiction to say which route is safe or not.

"We, therefore, should not depend too much on them (ICAO)… we have to use a new approach," Loke said.

Some pilot groups have been critical of the current risk analysis and notification process.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 "exposed a significant weakness—if not a failure—of international threat and risk assessment in civil aviation," said Nico Voorbach, president of the European Cockpit Association that represented pilots.

Controversy over how such safety warnings are issued or vetted is a major part of the fallout from the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 probe. Dutch investigators have said they intend to delve into airline decisions and practices when warnings about war zones are issued.

ICAO currently has a limited role and cannot open or close airspace. In a recent meeting, the United Nations’ civil aviation body said it would quickly form a task force on airline safety, noting that while this was complex and politically sensitive, urgent action had to be taken after the downing of MH17.

ICAO, together with the airline industry and other aviation groups said they would look at how safety information could be collected and distributed properly. It will convene a high-level safety conference in February 2015 to discuss the matter.-- Bernama

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