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.
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.
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.
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.
UPDATE 10:00pm EDT 17 July 2014:
At roughly midnight UTC the FAA issued a new NOTAM for the UKDV and UKFV regions (same areas covered by prior NOTAMs) in which all flight activity is prohibited. The published version I can locate is numbered A1517/14 while the FAA press release indicates names FDC 4/2182 and A0025/14; I cannot find reference to those in any systems online. The A1517/14 NOTAM expands the footprint of the prohibited access region previously defined in eastern Ukraine and also extends from the ground to unlimited altitude. It truly is a closing of the airspace for commercial US flights. And while the rule officially only applies to US carriers many others respect those rulings as well.
Also as part of this update A1507/14 appears to have been removed as it is superseded by the new filing.
[end updated text]
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.