Airlines to avoid airspace over Persian and Oman Gulf after tensions spike

Air France-KLM's Dutch subsidiary KLM is also avoiding flying over parts of Iran as a precautionary measure.

June 21, 2019 12:59
4 minute read.
An American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8, on a flight from Miami to New York City, comes in for landing

An American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8, on a flight from Miami to New York City, comes in for landing at LaGuardia Airport in New York, U.S., March 12, 2019. . (photo credit: REUTERS/SHANNON STAPLETON)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a no-fly zone in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman for all US air carriers and commercial operators, it announced on Friday. 

"There were numerous civil aviation aircraft operating in the area at the time of the intercept," the FFA said, adding that its prohibition would stay in place until further notice.

The prohibition follows tension in the Gulf as President Donald Trump authorized an attack on Iran, the New York Times reported on Friday. However, soon after the go-ahead, Trump cancelled the attack. One day before, a US drone was shot down by Iran. Iran claimed the drone was spying on the Persian state and had entered its "territory." The US insisted the drone was in international waters. 

The U.S. ban does not apply to airlines from other countries, but OPSGROUP, which provides guidance to operators, said carriers globally would take it into consideration.

"Since MH17, all countries rely on advice from the U.S., the U.K., France and Germany to highlight airspace risk," it said.

"The threat of a civil aircraft shootdown in southern Iran is real," it added.

Restricting airspace complicates airline efforts to keep routes running in a region where airspace is already congested, in part due to ongoing conflicts which have made it unsafe to fly over some countries.

At 0820 GMT on Friday, flight tracking website Flightradar24 showed Qatar Airways flights in the area barred to U.S. carriers.

On Monday, before the drone was shot down, Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar al-Baker told Reuters the airline "has a very robust plan B for any eventualities, including if there is a conflict in our region."

Qatar Airways did not respond immediately to a request for comment on Friday on whether it had introduced new measures since the drone was shot down.

Etihad Airways, which was flying over the area earlier, according to FlightRadar24, said it was monitoring the situation and had adopted contingency plans.

"We will decide what further action is required after carefully evaluating the FAA directive," the Abu Dhabi-based airline said. "We are working closely with the United Arab Emirates General Civil Aviation Authority."

Emirates, which was also flying over the area earlier on Friday, did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

United said it had suspended its flights to India through Iran airspace after a "thorough safety and security review," but did not say how long the suspension would last.

A United spokesman said customers flying from Mumbai to Newark would be booked on alternative flights back to the United States.

"We continue to explore all our options and remain in close contact with relevant government authorities," he added.

A Lufthansa spokesman said the company's planes had been avoiding the Strait of Hormuz since Thursday. He added that Lufthansa had extended the no-fly zone over Iran on Friday, without being more specific. The airline is still serving Iran's capital, Tehran.

Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman

Air France-KLM's Dutch
subsidiary KLM is also avoiding flying over parts of Iran as a precautionary measure, a spokesman said on Friday, confirming a report by the Netherlands' state broadcaster NOS.

The spokesman could not provide further details. The NOS report said that the company decided to reroute flights following a decision by the FAA to stop American operators from flying over Tehran-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman.

British Airways also said on Friday it will adhere to guidance from the FAA to avoid parts of Iranian airspace and its flights will continue to operate using alternative routes.

"Our safety and security team are constantly liaising with authorities around the world as part of their comprehensive risk assessment into every route we operate," a spokeswoman for IAG-owned British Airways said.

Malaysia Airlines said it was avoiding the airspace, which it had previously used on flights between Kuala Lumpur and London, Jeddah and Medina.

"The airline is closely monitoring the situation and is guided by various assessments, including security reports and notices to airmen," it added.

Qantas said it was adjusting flight paths to avoid the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman until further notice. Singapore Airlines said some flights might require longer routings to avoid the area.

On Thursday, two other U.S. carriers, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, said they did not fly over Iran. Japanese carriers Japan Airlines Co Ltd and ANA Holdings Inc also said they did not fly over the area. 

The Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf are the bodies of water separating Iran from its Middle Eastern neighbors Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Oman. 

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