3. What recent discussions he has had with stakeholders in the aviation industry on the use of flight paths over conflict zones. (905600)
The Department keeps in close contact with UK carriers about the whole range of threats to aviation, including the risks of flying over conflict zones. The Secretary of State recently met the secretary general of the International Civil Aviation Organisation and discussed this very issue.
Our thoughts remain very strongly with the families and friends of those who died in the terrible disaster that affected flight MH17. Since then, conditions have become even more dangerous, particularly in relation to the middle east. What are the Government doing, through the ICAO, to ensure that information about international flights is shared between domestic countries?
May I extend the Government’s condolences to the families of the 283 passengers and 15 crew, including 10 British citizens, who were killed? Indeed, at the European Council in Luxembourg, we had the opportunity to express condolences to my Dutch counterpart; a very large number of the casualties came from his country. The ICAO has set up a taskforce to look at the provision of over-flights in conflict zones, and the UK is participating actively in that work.
May I associate myself with the Minister’s condolences to the families, not least our own UK citizens? After MH17 was shot down, I wrote to the Minister in August to ask how the Government would ensure that all airlines had equal access to recommendations based on authoritative intelligence about safety over specific conflict zones. I also asked him to reconsider his reserved powers so that passengers, pilots and airline staff in the UK could have confidence in the process. His reply was that he was looking into it. After eight weeks in which conflicts in Iraq and Syria have intensified those concerns, what changes has he made?
I have already explained that work is being undertaken at an international level. Indeed, the Secretary of State has power to direct airlines not to fly over particular locations and the independent Civil Aviation Authority can issue a notice to airmen—a NOTAM—instructing pilots not to fly over those areas. Ultimately, it is up to the airline and the captain to take the decision, based on the best available information they have.
We are pleased to see the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) sprinting into the Chamber.