Aviation lawyers are voicing concerns that immature missile countermeasures technology could leave airlines exposed to liability.

Speaking at the Flight International-sponsored Tangent Link Protection of Flight for Civil Aircraft conference held at London Heathrow airport last week, Darcy Beamer-Downie, legal counsel at aviation law firm Beaumont and Son, said the "all necessary measures taken" defence being used by Sibir Airlines will no longer be available to airlines once a global standard for countermeasures is defined. A Sibir Tupolev Tu-154 was accidently shot down over the Black Sea in October 2001 by a missile fired by the Ukrainian military, killing all 78 people on board.

Sibir is arguing that as its aircraft was flying at the correct altitude and heading, and that the area in which it was shot down was not a known conflict area, it complied with International Civil Aviation Organisation rules on taking all necessary measures to avoid loss of the aircraft, and is therefore not liable. Beamer-Downie expects this get-out to be nullified once countermeasures such as flares or lasers to combat man-portable anti-aircraft missiles become standard. "If defences exist, then the airline could be proved to be negligent, especially once a standard is reached," she says.

Source: Flight International