Singapore Airlines changed a flight route between South Korea and the US earlier this year over fears about North Korean missile launches in the Asia-Pacific region, it has emerged.
An airline spokesperson told CNNMoney on Wednesday that it had rerouted daily flights between the South Korean capital, Seoul, and Los Angeles after Pyongyang test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in July.
On July 28 an Air France flight from Tokyo to Paris, carrying 323 people, passed just 60 miles from the splashdown site of a North Korean missile test, roughly five to ten minutes after it hit the water. The French airline expanded its no-fly zone over North Korea as a result.
North Korea’s attempts to develop an ICBM to carry a nuclear warhead to strike the American mainland have put commercial airlines operating in the busy East Asian airspace on alert, even though the chances of a plane colliding with a missile are miniscule.
According to guidelines issued by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a UN agency in charge of air safety, nations have the “responsibility to issue risk advisories regarding any threats to the safety of civilian aircraft operating in their airspace.”
Pyongyang, already subject to UN sanctions for its nuclear and missile programme, regularly fails to issue any warnings.
The crew of a Cathay Pacific flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong on November 29 reported the sighting of what they believed was a North Korean missile as it re-entered the earth’s atmosphere.
The North Koreans claimed on that day to have fired the Hwasong-15, their biggest and most powerful missile to date. It reportedly reached 1,000 miles higher than the July launch.
Hwasong-15 ICBM – new North Korean missile
In a statement, Cathay said the flight was “far from the event location” and that it had been in touch with the relevant authorities but had no plans to change its routes.
“We remain alert and review the situation as it evolves,” it added.
David Wright, a missile defence expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the crew most likely saw the missile early in its flight, rather than at the point of re-entry.
“Given the timing, it seems likely that the crew might have seen the first stage burn out and separate from the rest of the missile. This would have happened a few minutes after launch,” he wrote.
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