Current Affairs

No worries S’pore Airlines, risk of North Korean test missile hitting planes is low


On Nov. 29, North Korea tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile it claims is capable of reaching the United States.

There was no perceived damage caused by the test missile, but it might have been spotted by the crew on board Cathay Pacific Airways flight CX893.

Mid-flight over Japan

CX893 was in mid-flight over Japan when the crew saw what was possibly the North Korean test missile blowing up and falling apart.

The test missile was suspected to have been re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere when the crew reportedly saw it.

Many airlines use the route that CX893 took

CX893 was on a flight path between San Francisco and Hong Kong. Singapore Airlines also regularly flies that route.

Hundreds of flights every day travel between Asia and North America along that route.

China Airlines, Eva Air, and All Nippon Airways were reportedly also in the area where CX893 was during the incident.

North Korea has test-fired about 23 missiles since February 2017.

Risks to commercial planes

Concerns over the safety of passenger planes flying in the area linger, but might be overwrought.

While the probability of a North Korean missile hitting a passenger plane is very low, these missile tests do pose a risk for commercial planes because North Korea does not announce or give warnings on its missile tests, according to the BBC.

North Korea reportedly has access to international civil aviation data and are unlikely to risk hitting a passenger aircraft.

If it does, the country will face a possible military response as a consequence.

There are, however, still risks in other forms, as the high failure rate of past North Korean missile tests make the following scenarios possible:

  • The missile veers off course and enters busier airspace
  • The missile breaks up somewhere in mid-flight and create a debris field that could pose a risk to aircraft at high altitude

What airlines are doing to take precautions

Some airlines have indicated that they are changing their flight paths to avoid North Korea and the area between North Korea and Japan’s Northern island of Hokkaido.

Air France has expanded their no-fly zone around North Korea in early August this year, after one of their aircraft came within 100km of one of North Korea’s previous missile tests.

Other airlines, like Cathay Pacific, are not changing their flight routes yet.

SIA has said that they are monitoring the situation closely and will reroute their flight paths where necessary.

But SIA has already taken steps to change its Seoul to Los Angeles flight routes since July this year.

This change had come after North Korea launched a missile into the Sea of Japan on July 27.

Back in 2009, SIA had also avoided North Korean airspace by using alternative routes.

But the likelihood of a North Korean missile hitting a passenger plane remains low:

“It’s a very low chance. Ultimately you’re talking about to two fairly small objects coming into contact in three dimensional space.”

Top image via Getty Images

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