- Global airlines are avoiding airspace in and around Iran and Iraq, as news emerges that a Ukrainian plane that crashed near Tehran early Wednesday was accidentally shot down by Iran.
- The FAA created a no-fly zone for US civil aircraft following an Iranian missile attack on US forces in Iraq on Wednesday. The Ukraine International Airlines flight, PS752, crashed shortly after the missile launch.
- Other airlines are following the FAA’s guidance, but much of the airspace, including over the waters of the Persian Gulf, is virtually unavoidable for Middle Eastern airlines like Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar, which fly passengers globally via Middle Eastern hubs.
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Global airlines are continuing to reroute flights in the Middle East on reports that a passenger plane that crashed in Iran on Tuesday was shot down by a missile, killing all 176 people on board.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) on Tuesday establishing a no-fly zone for US aviators over Iran and Iraq, after Iran fired missiles at an Iraqi base housing US military personnel. The attack was in retaliation for a US airstrike in Iraq that killed Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani.
The NOTAM, which also prohibited US civil aircraft from flying above „the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman,“ was issued due to the „potential for miscalculation or misidentification“ for civilian planes, the FAA said.
When it was issued, the NOTAM was based only on the possibility of a civilian plane being misidentified as a military target. Shortly after Iran’s missile strike on the Iraqi base, a Ukraine International Airlines flight from Tehran to Kyiv crashed within minutes of taking off.
Iranian officials initially said that there was a mechanical issue and implied the timing was a coincidence. However, on Thursday, US intelligence officials said that it was „highly likely“ that the plane had been shot down accidentally by Iran.
Although the ban only applies to US airlines and cargo carriers, few of which typically fly over the affected airspace, numerous global airlines have chosen to follow the guidance anyway.
Air France, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines, and Taiwan’s EVA Air said they would avoid the airspace, while Singapore Airlines said it would not fly over Iran, according to CNN.
Australian airline Qantas said that it was considering adding a refueling stop to its 17-hour flight from Perth to London in order to avoid the affected airspace, or unloading 90 passengers per flight in order to reduce weight.
A complication is that the airspace over the region, which is a major transit route for flights into and out of the United Arab Emirates, tends to be heavily trafficked. Airlines like Emirates and Etihad, which are based in the UAE, frequently fly over the Persian Gulf connecting passengers between the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. For Qatar Airways, airspace is even more restricted due to blockades from other Middle Eastern states.
Data from flight tracking website FlightRadar24 showed air traffic continuing over the region, but primarily from regional airlines or UAE and Qatari airlines.
Several airlines cancelled flights due to the restrictions and escalating tensions. Lufthansa said it would not fly to Tehran or the Iraqi city of Erbil, while Emirates cancelled flights between Dubai and Baghdad, CNN reported.
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