Major airlines cancelled Iran and Iraq flights and re-routed others away from both countries’ airspace following an Iranian missile strike.
Germany’s Lufthansa, Dubai-based Emirates and low-cost flydubai were among airlines cancelling flights, as the US Federal Aviation Administration barred American carriers from the area. Other carriers continued operations over affected airspace.
Iran on Wednesday fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles targeting at least two Iraqi military bases hosting US-led coalition personnel, the US military said.
Within hours, the FAA barred US carriers from airspace over Iran, the Gulf of Oman and the waters between Iran and Saudi Arabia, citing “heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the Middle East, which present an inadvertent risk to US civil aviation operations”.
The flight ban came shortly before a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 burst into flames soon after take-off from Tehran, killing all 176 people aboard in a crash blamed by Ukrainian authorities on engine failure.
Non-US operators are not bound by the FAA decision, but they and other regulators consider its advice when determining where to fly. On Wednesday, the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) recommended to national authorities European carriers avoid Iraqi airspace.
Airlines have taken steps to avoid flying over conflict zones since 2014, when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was downed by a missile launched from Ukraine, killing 298 people. Re-routing increases flight times and burns extra fuel.
Australia’s Qantas Airways said it would add 50 minutes to its Perth-London flight time and cut passenger numbers to carry more fuel as it re-routes around Iran and Iraq.
The FAA prohibited US carriers from Iranian airspace and flying under 26 000 feet over Iraq, after Iran shot down a high-altitude US drone last June.
Lufthansa dropped scheduled flights to Erbil in northern Iraq and to Tehran and said services to the Iranian capital would resume on Thursday. Overflights will be re-routed to avoid both countries’ airspace.
Air France-KLM, which stoppd its Tehran service in 2018, was also suspending Air France flights through Iranian and Iraqi airspace “as a precautionary measure”.
British Airways said a small number of flights would be affected by re-routing, without elaborating. Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines Ltd, Malaysia Airlines, Air Canada and Taiwan’s China Airlines were among carriers re-routing flights.
“As a result, flight times to and from Mumbai may be slightly longer than expected,” a Virgin spokeswoman said.
Other major airlines maintained flights over Iraq and Iran and were actively monitoring the situation.
As of 0830 GMT, airlines still flying over either country included Qatar Airways, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Turkish Airlines, flydubai, Air Arabia and low-cost long-haul carrier Norwegian Air, according to FlightRadar24 data.
Norwegian, whose Dubai flights routinely cross Iran, said it was “looking at alternative routes” for flights departing Scandinavia later. “The safety and security for our passengers and crew is always our number one priority,” it added.
Emirates and flydubai each cancelled a return flight to Baghdad, Qatar Airways flights to Iraq were operating normally.
The use of Iranian and Iraqi airspace is critical for the Qatari carrier, banned from flying over Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain since mid-2017 the result of a damaging political dispute.
OPSGROUP, which advises airlines on security, said new US flight bans were “significant”, particularly given the entire over-water airspace in the region is now unavailable.
“Flights headed to and from main airports in the region such as Dubai will now route through Saudi Arabian airspace,” it said on its website.