FRANCE 24 , AUGUST 4, 2017-- The French airline has said it is expanding its "non-flyover area around North Korea" while denying that passengers were at risk last week when one of its jets flew past the location where a North Korean missile splashed into the sea minutes later.
Last Friday’s relatively close encounter between the missile and Air France Flight 293, first reported by ABC, has raised fears that North Korea’s increasingly brazen missile tests may pose a threat to airlines operating in the region.
Flight data suggests the aircraft, travelling from Tokyo to Paris with 323 people on board, passed just east of the site where the intercontinental ballistic missile splashed into the water, roughly five to 10 minutes later.
At the time of the missile’s splashdown, the Air France flight was approximately 100 kilometres further north. Had the jet taken off a few minutes late, experts warn, the trajectories could have been much closer.
Contacted by FRANCE 24, the French carrier confirmed that the available data pointed to the missile “falling into the sea at more than 100 kilometres from the plane’s trajectory”.
“Even if this distance was proven, it would not question the safety of the flight,” Air France cautioned in a written reply, adding that flight AF293 “was operated in accordance with the flight plan and without any reported incident.”
However, the company said it was expanding its no-fly zone above North Korea and the surrounding seas as a “precautionary” measure.
“In cooperation with the authorities, Air France constantly analyzes potentially dangerous flyover zones and adapts its flight plans accordingly,” it said.
“At this stage, as a precautionary measure, the company has decided to expand the non-flyover area around North Korea, a country that it does not overfly.”
The North Korean missile launched on Friday reached a peak altitude of 3,700 kilometres (2,300 miles) before dropping into the sea.
Under guidelines issued by the International Civil Aviation Organization, states are required to issue advisories regarding potential threats to the safety of civilian aircraft.
South Korea has repeatedly accused its northern neighbour of failing to meet such obligations when carrying out missile tests.