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Korean airlines avoiding routes through Ukraine

The nation’s two top airlines ― Korean Air and Asiana Airlines ― have been steering clear of Ukraine’s airspace for the last five months, the two carriers said on Friday, a day after a Malaysian Airlines aircraft was shot down in war-torn Ukraine.

“From early March when the situation in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula began to worsen, Korean Air has been rerouting its cargo and passenger flights,” Korean Air said in a statement. “There are no safety concerns at the moment.”

Korean Air previously operated 42 flights ― 26 cargo and 16 passenger ― flying over Ukraine.

It also announced its plan to halt three flights to Tel Aviv, scheduled for July, amid escalating tension in the region after Israel launched a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Asiana Airlines also said it has been making detours. “Asiana had a once-a-week cargo flight flying over Ukraine but we rerouted it in early March,” said Asiana spokeswoman Lee Hyo-min.

U.S. carriers have voluntarily agreed not to operate in the airspace near the Russian-Ukraine border, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Italy’s aviation agency ENAC said its airlines should also avoid flying over the area.

The U.S. department of State also expressed concerns over the tragedy. “We are horrified by the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. There are no words adequate to express our condolences to the families of the nearly 300 victims.”

On July 17, Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 disappeared from radar as it was flying over Ukraine carrying 295 passengers. Reports say the carrier was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. It was not immediately clear who was to blame.

There were no Koreans on board, according Seoul officials.

In March, another Malaysian Airlines disappeared in flight. The cause has yet to be identified.

“We are shocked by the news that Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed in eastern Ukraine,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, said in a statement.

Qin expressed “our deep condolence to the victims and our sincere sympathy to their families.”

China is trying to check whether there were Chinese passengers on board the downed plane, Qin said.

By Park Han-na and news reports
(hnpark@heraldcorp.com)
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