Commercial airlines, including Qantas, will reroute flights crossing the Middle East to avoid possible danger amid escalating tensions between the United States and Iran.
The flight restrictions reflected fears that the conflict between the longtime foes could ratchet up following Iranian ballistic missile strikes Tuesday on two Iraqi bases that house US troops. Those strikes were retaliation for the US killing Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike near Baghdad last week.
Poland’s national carrier, PLL LOT, said on Saturday – even before Iran’s retaliatory strike – it was changing routes to bypass Iran’s airspace. Paris-based Air France and Dutch carrier KLM both said on Wednesday they had suspended all flights over Iran and Iraq airspace indefinitely.
Australian carrier Qantas said it was altering its London to Perth route to avoid Iranian and Iraqi airspace until further notice, the only route affected by the alterations. The longer route means Qantas will have to carry fewer passengers and more fuel to remain in the air for an extra 40 to 50 minutes.
The airline said it was considering sending the flights leaving Australia through an Asian city to refuel given the extra distance.
Malaysia Airlines said “due to recent events” its planes would avoid Iranian airspace.
Singapore Airlines also said its flights to Europe would be rerouted to avoid Iran.
The US Federal Aviation Administration said it was barring American pilots and carriers from flying in areas of Iraqi, Iranian and some Persian Gulf airspace. The agency warned of the “potential for miscalculation or misidentification” for civilian aircraft amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran. Such restrictions are often precautionary in nature to prevent civilian aircraft from being confused for ones engaged in armed conflict.
The FAA said the restrictions were being issued due to “heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the Middle East, which present an inadvertent risk to US civil aviation operations”. Following the FAA, India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation advised Indian commercial carriers to avoid Iranian, Iraqi and Persian Gulf airspace.
German airline Lufthansa said it had cancelled its flight from Frankfurt to Tehran on Wednesday and another flight on Saturday in Erbil in light of the current situation. Lufthansa subsidiary Austrian Airlines also cancelled service to Erbil.
Swiss International Air Lines, another Lufthansa subsidiary, also said it was avoiding Iranian and Iraqi airspace for the time being.
The Russian aviation agency, Rosaviatsia, issued an official recommendation for all Russian airlines to avoid flying over Iran, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman “due to existing risks for the safety of international civil flights”. Russia’s biggest private airline, S7, said it would reroute its twice-a-week flight from the Siberian city of Novosibirsk to Dubai.
Russian carrier Ural Airlines was working on alternative routes for its flights to Bahrain, Dubai and Ras al Khaimah to avoid flying over Iranian airspace, the carrier’s spokeswoman said on Wednesday.
At least two Kazakh airlines – Air Astana and SCAT – were considering rerouting or cancelling their flights over Iran following the crash of a Ukrainian airliner that killed 176 people.
The plane had taken off from Imam Khomeini International Airport in the Iranian capital when a fire struck one of its engines, said Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry.
Kazakh officials said that Air Astana, the country’s flagship carrier, “is currently holding a meeting on whether to reroute or ban” flights. SCAT, one of the largest airlines in Kazakhstan, told Russia’s Interfax news agency that it was also considering rerouting flights.
United Arab Emirates-owned budget airline flydubai said it had cancelled a scheduled flight on Wednesday from Dubai to Baghdad but was continuing flights to Basra and Najaf.
Emirates airline flights between Dubai and Baghdad were cancelled. “The safety of our passengers, crew and aircraft is our number one priority and will not be compromised,” Emirates said in a statement.
Qatar Airways, however, said its flights to Iraq were operating normally. “The safety of our passengers and employees is of the highest importance, and we continue to closely monitor developments in Iraq,” the airline said in a statement.
And Buta Airways, an Azerbaijani low-cost carrier, said on Wednesday it was not planning to suspend or reroute daily flights between Baku, the country’s capital, and Tehran.
– Associated Press writers Daria Litvinova in Moscow; Angela Charlton in Pari; Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland; Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia; Frank Jordans in Berlin and Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia contributed to this report.