Air Transport World editor calls for airshow boycott over MH17

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In a move that is nothing short of brave, aviation trade media publication Air Transport World’s executive editor Karen Walker has proposed that airlines boycott air shows where surface-to-air missiles are sold, in the wake of the devastating downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17 yesterday.

Air Transport World is owned by Penton Media, which also owns Aviation Week, one of the aerospace industry’s most prominent defense publications. Aviation Week has a significant presence at virtually every major air show, including this week’s Farnborough air show.

Writing candidly in a blog post for Air Transport World, Walker says:

I’ve been working this week at the Farnborough Airshow in the UK. International airshows are a regular part of the air transportation and aerospace calendar; they generate huge media interest and are both symbols of prestige for their host nations and conduits for billions of dollars of trade. 

But the irony of this week’s events is that on the one hand, we have seen many of the world’s airline top executives attending Farnborough to complete and sign huge new airliner and engine deals at ceremonies in front of the world’s press.

And on the other hand, all around them are companies who make the kind of weapons that are now suspected of bringing down one of their own. Indeed, there are actual exhibits of those types of weapons at Farnborough, which opens to the public this weekend. In truth, these airshows are also arms trade fairs.

So I propose that airline executives join together and boycott airshows for as long as they are inclusive of both airliner makers and airliner destroyers.

It may be a crazy idea, but it’s nowhere as crazy as the shooting down of an airliner. And it’s one that would give airlines a chance to demonstrate they will no longer permit their aircraft, passengers and crew to become needless, innocent victims of war.

Thus far, Walker’s thought-provoking piece has received a largely positive response on social media. And indeed Aviation Week has just tweeted a link to the post, so it is clearly comfortable with it, which is impressive considering its coverage of the defense sector.

Responding to a RGN tweet on the subject, aviation consultant Robert Mann says, “Military aircraft alongside civil transports, no problem. But anti-aircraft weapons systems, no way.”

Air Canada spokesman John Reber notes, “Air Canada hasn’t attended airshows in years. Dialogue with manufacturers [is] ongoing, deals announced as concluded.”

Will all airlines heed this call?

2 Comments

  1. Bernard Gui

    What an embarassing hypocritical call which lacks any logic and reason.

    According to this remarkably shortsighted logic shown by Mrs Walker after 9/11 we would have to boycott all those airshows where civilian airlines are displayed, too, as it were civilian airliners who caused the death of thousands of innocent people.

    This evident example hopefully makes it obvious that you need to go down the causal chain a bit further than just one single link as Mrs Walker did. Not the exsitence of SAMs are responsible for what happened but those who fired it.

    First of all SAMs are not designed to down airliners. Now that such a system has been misused we should blame those who did it and not the manufacturers of the same. That’s as if you demand knives to be banned from everyday life because of the regular stabbings that occur every now and then.

    Secondly no matter who shot down MH17, I am sure the involved system was not bought on an airshow. Airshows is not the place rogue states or rebels buy their weapons, but rather the good guys.

    Further to that SAMs are a defensive weapon in general, especially such heavy and less mobile multi-component systems as the Buk, which allegedly was involved, as it can hardly be deployed unnoticed to hostile terrain. Like for any weapon system the key problem does not lay in their existence or sale, but in how and by whom they are used.

    You should also question why there are SAMs before you come to such rash conclusions. The answer is simple: It’s primarily attack planes who have led to the development of air defense weaponry. So how could you boycott airshows where a once misused defensive weapon is being displayed but then tolerate offensive airborne weapons that are the cause for the existence of the earlier?
    That said you have to extend your boycott call to airshows where any airborne weapon system is displayed, if you want to claim some logical consistency for yourself.

    And before you start demonizing the defense industry as a whole or whatever of their products you should bear in mind that almost every large aviation manufacturer has a huge exposure in the defense sector and that hardly any airliner could fly without the technology originally developed for military purposes. If you want to boycott those direcly or indirectly responsible for the existence of SAMs, then you should start with Airbus and Boeing and most of the big names.

    Also give yourself a moment to think about who caused this whole conflict in Ukraine and the tragic consequences. The West is definitely not without guilt here.
    We are totally used to such “collateral damages” in other war theatres, but now that it has hit our equals we play consternation. At least from an ethical point of view that is inconsistent and reprehensible.

    Lastly if you are indeed such a pacifist how can you cling on this incident which costed 300 people’s life but to remain silent when it comes to the thousands of innocent people killed by airborne weapons – be them manned or not – around the world every year?

    This call for boycott is really ridiculous and must be the result of a severe brainstorm or it’s a totally stupid PR stunt. In any case this can only harm Air Transport World.

  2. Kudos to you Mary for publishing such a robust response to your post. Bernard makes some valid points, and it’s interesting that Karen and ATW have come out so strongly against showing weapons at air shows. As he points out, the best of those wonderful air displays that are so exciting to watch come from highly sophisticated airborne killing machines. And, of all the major aircraft manufacturers at Farnborough, I can only think of a couple that are not directly involved in the defence sector.

    As to good guy/bad guy – that depends on what side you’re on. We are a species of angry, fearful people and spend a lot of time and energy perfecting ways to kill each other. That’s the real tragedy. Is it simply now that it’s been brought home to us Westerners in such a dreadful manner that we have had our awareness raised? Great that we are talking about it.

    Just to be clear on this – I’d absolutely prefer not to see missiles at civilian air shows. I’d prefer they didn’t exist at all. I’d also love to see that fabulous flying just for entertainment and have the aircraft decommissioned for war. And money spent on war going to care for its victims instead to get them on their feet again. Yes, I know this is hugely wishful thinking.

    Where I think airlines could really play a more positive role at air shows is playing on their strengths and deliberately setting aside time at a show to come together to celebrate peace. And to talk to the president/prime minister of the host nation about its possibility and how to achieve it in the host continent. An airline’s job is to transport people all over the world. That way we get to mix and realise that most of us are not so very different in our hopes and ideals for our lives. So carriers have a unique perspective on international cultural similarities and differences as they constantly look at what their passengers are wanting.

    I feel so sorry for everyone involved in last week’s atrocity, and hope that the debate on how to stop it happening again continues until there is a solution. Thanks for flagging it up,

    Liz