Date of Award

Spring 5-2020

Document Type

Undergraduate Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts in International Relations


Political Science & International Relations


Randy Willoughby


Vidya Nadkarni


Billions of people around the world use the global airspace system for their travel needs every year. Given the rising number of passengers traveling by air annually, it is crucial that pilots, airlines, regulatory agencies, governments, and international organizations work together to ensure the integrity of a safe and efficient global airspace system. While air travel is statistically one of the safest forms of transportation, accidents in which civilian aircraft operating on standard routes and schedules are shot down are not unprecedented. Not all airspace around the globe designated for civilian use is free from geopolitical conflict. In this project, I consider the role that global governance gaps, which stem from the idea that there is no single global government, play in producing unsafe airspace and situations in which civilian airliners are downed. Two incidents from the late Cold War, Korean Air Lines Flight 007 and Iran Air Flight 655, and one recent incident, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, are reviewed. Using archival material and official responses of pertinent parties to each of the three selected incidents, this study investigates the constellations of global governance gaps and related factors that are responsible for producing instances of airliner downings that the international community should endeavor to avoid in the future. The project seeks to contribute to ongoing discussions about aviation policy decisions and safety practices that aircraft operators, governments, and international organizations might employ to mitigate the occurrence of similar accidents in the future.