North Korea’s ‘Irresponsible’ Missile Tests Ignore International Aviation Rules

Air France downplayed controversy over the nation’s recent ICBM launch, but U.S. officials are concerned.

Last Friday, for the second time in a month, North Korea successfully tested an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. The White House's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, called this development in the country's ambitious nuclear quest a "grave threat," because of Kim Jong-Un's "open defiance of the international community."

Additionally, some U.S. officials are worried about what the nation's missile tests mean for civil aviation. According to ABC News, Air France Flight 293 passed the spot in the Sea of Japan where North Korea's missile landed, between five and 10 minutes later. The Boeing 777 left Tokyo for Paris carrying 323 people, and while an Air France spokesperson told the media outlet that North Korea's missile tests "don't interfere in any way with Air France's flight paths," U.S. officials are still concerned.

"This missile flew through busy airspace used by commercial airliners," Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said. "It flew into space. It landed in Japan's exclusive economic zone, and an area that's used by commercial and fishing vessels. All of this completely uncoordinated."

As Davis explained, the U.S. and other "responsible" nations issue press releases and warnings before missile tests. In fact, he said, the U.S. issued alerts for a joint missile exercise with South Korea following North Korea's Friday launch, as well as a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile test over the weekend. "Irresponsible nations," he told CNN, "fire these things off without putting out notice."

The United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization requires states to issue advisories for any aviation threats, such as a volcanic eruption. Missile tests and rocket launches are also included.

The ICAO says that “Aircraft and airline operators are responsible for assessing global airspace risks communicated by States, and/or third parties, before deciding where they fly,” which is why Air France downplayed the incident. "Air France constantly analyzes potentially dangerous flyover zones and adapts its flight plans accordingly," the airline told CNN.

The network's aviation safety analyst also said the chances of an ICBM hitting an airplane are "billions to one," but Davis still believes the lack of notice puts aircraft and ships at risk.