Sir Tim Clark insisted the notion that airlines are reckless and select routes to minimise fuel costs is "anathema to the DNA and chemistry of what we do".
But he conceded "the way we go about our business has to change" following the attack over Ukraine last week, which left 289 passengers and crew dead.
Calling for the aviation sector to be given more information about potential security risks, Sir Tim said: "The safety of our passengers and crew and everybody else is our first priority and we have clear, empirical evidence of the airline community avoiding, flying round or simply avoiding flying to areas of conflict, and that goes back 50, 60, 70 years, post-war.
"This one, an aircraft flying in what it thought was controlled airspace, complying with its requirements of flying above a certain altitude, taking third party nationals from one point to another to get taken down... My comments are no different to anyone else's: outrage, anger and desperation."
Sir Tim, in Scotland to launch the Dubai-based airline's £2 million lounge at Glasgow Airport, called on intelligence-gathering agencies to pass on more information about risks to the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which he also urged to "lift its game".
Sir Tim, who noted the aviation community will "close ranks" to support colleagues at Malaysian Airlines, said: "It's all very well speaking in hindsight, but one thing's for sure: we have got to be better at risk assessment than we have been in the past."