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Airlines Work to Avoid Iranian, Iraqi Airspace

Qatar’s A350-1000 pulls into the gate at DFW (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Parker Davis)

The Middle Eastern political instability that has seen an uptick as a result of the United States’ killing of Iranian military leader Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani in Iraq is forcing some airlines to re-route flights around the two nations’ airspace.

According to the Associated Press, approximately 500 flights daily overfly the airspace controlled and managed by the two countries. That number, in turn, includes flights for dozens of airlines. Carriers from Europe and eastern Asia will be forced to alter the few of their flights that traverse the region, whether on their way to surrounding areas or directly to the Middle East.

Hometown airlines wishing to take the same precautions, however, will be the most hard-hit across the board. For example, the Gulf Carriers all have dozens of flights that take “polar” routes to get to the Americas or have to go northward to reach some destinations in Europe and Asia, meaning those airlines will likely see the biggest financial hit if this jump in tensions becomes a longer-term conflict.

Airlines all over the world have put out releases ensuring the public that its aircraft would not be flying over the airspace in question. Various regulatory bodies have taken the same steps, including the U.S.’s Federal Aviation Administration.

According to the AP, the FAA notified all carriers under its umbrella that they would not be allowed to fly over any parts of Iran and Iraq in addition to certain parts of the Persian Gulf, something the agency called a precautionary measure as a result of “heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the Middle East, which present an inadvertent risk to U.S. civil aviation operations.”

This development from the FAA has not affected Delta or United’s U.S.-India routes.

A screenshot of all commercial aircraft operating in Iran and Iraq airspace on Wednesday, Jan. 8 at 9:30 p.m. UTC. (Photo: FlightRadar24)

Some carriers were continuing to operate flights to and from Iran. While Emirates canceled its flight between Dubai and Baghdad, low-cost Emirati carrier flydubai continued to operate two of its flights to destinations in Iraq.

Further still, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways both continued to operate as normal, stressing they would continue to evaluate the safety and viability of those flights going forward. Etihad did invite customers who did not wish to fly anymore to contact the airline.

Largely, the risk likely centers around civilian aircraft being mistaken for military aircraft in and around an area where stress and tensions among military installations will be near their peaks.

In 1996, an incident that follows that formula killed 290 civilians after a United States Navy guided-missile cruiser mistook Iran Air Flight 655 — a flight from Bandar Abbas, Iran to Dubai operated by an Airbus A300 — for an Iranian military aircraft, shooting it down with a surface-to-air missile and killing all aboard.

A similar situation transpired Malaysia Airlines flight 17, which in July 2014 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in the midst of heightened tensions between the two nations over border disputes.

It still remains to be seen what the extent of the conflict might be and whether its scope might threaten the safety of air travel in and around the region. While airlines may be operating out of an abundance of caution now, it will only be a short time before the world knows whether it will last.

Parker Davis


  • Parker Davis

    Parker joined AirlineGeeks as a writer and photographer in 2016, combining his longtime love for aviation with a newfound passion for journalism. Since then, he’s worked as a Senior Writer before becoming Editor-in-Chief of the site in 2020. Originally from Dallas and an American frequent flyer, he left behind the city’s rich aviation history to attend college in North Carolina, where he’s studying economics.

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