KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia Airlines says that in the wake of the shooting down of one of its passenger jets over Ukraine, it has changed the route it planes will take on flights to and from Europe.
The airline said in a statement Friday on its website that all of its European flights "will be taking alternative routes avoiding the usual route."
The plane, which was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, crashed Thursday with 298 people on board Flight 17. American intelligence authorities believe a surface-to-air missile brought the aircraft down but it was not yet clear who fired it.
"The usual flight route was earlier declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organization. International Air Transportation Association has stated that the airspace the aircraft was traversing was not subject to restrictions," the airline said in a statement on its website.
Even though there were no restrictions, Malaysia Airlines may still face questions about why it continued with flight paths over eastern Ukraine — at the heart of a violent rebellion against Kiev — when some airlines decided months ago to change routes to skip around the area.
In Seoul, Asiana spokeswoman Lee Hyomin said Asiana had a once-a-week cargo flight that had flown over Ukraine but re-routed the flight in early March amid the worsening situation over the Crimean peninsula.
Korean Air Line also said it had rerouted cargo and passenger flights in early March amid the worsening situation over the Crimean peninsula. A company official, who requested anonymity in line with department rules, said Korean Air Line had had 42 flights — 26 cargo and 16 passenger flights — which flew over Ukraine before.
Likewise, Australia's Qantas stopped flying over Ukraine several months ago and shifted its London-Dubai route 645 kilometers (400 miles) to the south. A spokeswoman declined to explain the change.
The China Civil Aviation Administration said it instructed all domestic airlines to avoid flying over Ukraine. At present, there are a total of 28 round-trip Chinese flights a week that fly over the area.
A statement from Hong Kong's Civil Aviation Department said local "airlines do not use air routes that cross Ukrainian airspace."
Aviation authorities in several countries, including the FAA in the United States, had issued warnings not to fly over parts of Ukraine prior to Thursday's crash, but many carriers, including cash-strapped Malaysia Airlines, had continued to use the route because "it is a shorter route, which means less fuel and therefore less money," said aviation expert Norman Shanks.