The FAA is banning US overflights of Syria, citing the risk of an MH17-style shootdown. Their decision came just prior to the release of a report from a European research firm called Small Arms Survey said that rebel groups have likely acquired MANPADS (despite the Obama Administration’s resistance to supplying them with any) by capturing them from the Syrian army and via suppliers in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and even Sudan (?):
The new report estimated that several hundred anti-aircraft missile systems are already in rebel arsenals. Mostly Russian and Chinese in origin, the weapons have been seized by Syrian opposition militias from government forces and smuggled in from nations sympathetic to the rebels, the report said.
I assume the FAA has some additional information aside from this report informing its overflight ban, because commercial flights at cruising altitude operate above the range of any known MANPADS. It’s entirely possible that the rebels, maybe IS in its recent successes in Raqqa, got hold of some more substantial anti-aircraft weaponry. But the idea of MANPADS in rebel hands is frightening enough; while they could be and have been used to counter Assad’s air superiority, they could easily be smuggled out of the country by a group like IS, which only just reaffirmed an intention to attack the US. While these things aren’t much threat to civilian aircraft in flight, if they’re deployed near an airport then they become a grave threat to civilian aircraft doing the things that civilian aircraft do at airports:
The most immediate danger is that anti-aircraft weapons, especially newer and sophisticated models, could easily be diverted to armed groups operating outside Syria, it said. Porous borders and the presence in Iraq and other neighboring countries of groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and other armed groups heighten the danger that anti-aircraft weapons could spread to other trouble spots.
“In the hands of trained terrorists with global reach, even a few missiles pose a potentially catastrophic threat to commercial aviation,” wrote Matthew Schroeder, the report’s author. The analysis is based on government and media reports and video footage of anti-aircraft weapons posted online from inside Syria.