An Australian safety expert says Malaysia Airlines should have avoided flying over Ukraine.

Malaysia Airlines shouldn’t have been anywhere near Ukraine, an Australian safety specialist says.

Flight MH17 was carrying 298 people, including 27 Australians, from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it crashed in rebel-held east Ukraine.

It’s believed the plane was shot down in what has been described as a “terrorist” attack.

Central Queensland University accident investigation and safety specialist Professor Geoff Dell says the airline shouldn’t have been flying over Ukraine.

“From as soon as the conflict started they shouldn’t have been going anywhere near it,” Prof Dell said.

“They should’ve shifted to alternate routes, like all the other airlines seemed to have done.”

He said responsibility for the incident falls to the airline and raises questions about operational decision-making issues.

“You just don’t go anywhere near it unless you’ve got no alternatives and there’s always the alternative of not going.

“I’m just flabbergasted.”

Former Qantas pilot Graham Dutton, who regularly used to fly the route over Ukraine, said it was a busy flight path.

He said airlines had generally deemed it safe for passenger planes to overfly “hot spots” at cruising altitudes above 28,000 feet.

That was considered a safe level, outside the reach of normal, portable surface-to-air missiles used by non-government forces.

But there are reports the Russian government may have supplied pro-Russian forces with the longer-range missiles. The part of Ukraine where the plane came down is at the centre of an ongoing separatist dispute.

Mr Dutton said the incident could dramatically change where airlines are willing to fly.

He said that if a missile was found to have downed the Malaysia Airlines flight, as it cruised at 33,000 feet, airlines would have to reassess the risk of ground attacks.

“The normal portable missiles should not have struck aircraft at 33,000 feet,” he told the ABC.

“I think this is a bit of a game changer for civil aviation.”

Mr Dutton said there would have been no equipment on the plane to detect any missile attack.

“They would have had no idea what was about to happen,” Mr Dutton said.