Pilot and journalist James Fallows has an op-ed in today's New York Times explaining how MH17 was following the rules:
Before Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 took off on Thursday, its crew and dispatchers would have known that a few hours earlier Ukrainian authorities had prohibited flights at 32,000 feet and below across eastern parts of their country, “due to combat actions ... near the state border” with Russia, as the official notice put it, including the downing of a Ukrainian military transport plane earlier in the week.
Therefore when they crossed this zone at 33,000 feet, they were neither cutting it razor-close nor bending the rules, but doing what many other airlines had done, in a way they assumed was both legal and safe. Legal in much the way that driving 63 in a 65-mile-per-hour zone would be.
And safe, not just for regulatory reasons, but because aircraft at cruising altitude are beyond the reach of anything except strictly military antiaircraft equipment. During takeoff and landing, airliners are highly vulnerable: They are big, they are moving slowly and in a straight line, they are close to the ground. But while cruising, they are beyond most earthbound criminal or terrorist threats.
This is why, even during wartime, airliners have frequently flown across Iraq and Afghanistan. The restricted zone over Ukraine was meant to protect against accidental fire or collateral damage. It didn’t envision a military attack.
The rebels are reportedly blocking access to the crash site, while the Ukrainian government says it has proof Russia supplied the missile that killed 298 civilians.
And with two 777 hull losses in three months, Malaysia Airlines' future is in doubt.
The drumbeat continues.