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D-AIKS, the Airbus A330-300 which returned to Frankfurt while en route to Tehran on Jan. 9, 2020 seen pushing back from its gate in Austin. (Photo: Saul Hannibal | @ausspotting)

Lufthansa Cancels, Reinstates, Then Reroutes Tehran Flight

Following the historic Iran nuclear deal, airlines around the world flocked to restart service to the nation’s capital. As the U.S. reimposed sanctions on Iran in late 2018, airlines such as British Airways, Air France and Alitalia pulled their Tehran routes. Some airlines such as KLM pulled out due to negative financial results while others such as Aegean Airlines blamed foreign exchange bank restrictions that affected the viability of the route.

One airline that has weathered the political uncertainty of serving Iran is Lufthansa. At one point, the German flag carrier was the only European carrier serving Iran. Lufthansa Group carrier Austrian Airlines also reopened flights to Tehran in 2014 and has linked the Iranian capital with Vienna ever since.

Despite heightened U.S.-Iran political tensions over the past few months, it was business as usual for both Lufthansa Group carriers. After Iran fired multiple missiles at two U.S. bases located in Iraq and the early morning crash of a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 on Wednesday, Jan. 8, carriers began avoiding Iranian and Iraqi airspace. Singapore Airlines was among the first airlines to stop using Iranian airspace as tensions heightened.

As a precautionary measure, Lufthansa canceled its Wednesday flight to Tehran. Lufthansa Group also announced that aside from flights originating or arriving in Iran, all Lufthansa Group flights would avoid Iranian and Iraqi airspace.

A spokesperson for Lufthansa told AirlineGeeks: “Lufthansa Group Security has worked with national and international authorities to obtain a precise picture of the situation on the ground. We remain in constant contact with the national and international authorities and will decide on a daily basis on the operation of the flights and their organization.”

The spokesperson for Lufthansa confirmed that the Frankfurt to Tehran route would resume on Thursday. As expected, Lufthansa flight 600 and Austrian flight 871 resumed normal operations to Tehran on Thursday, Jan. 9. 

Media reports began circulating that the U.S. confirmed the Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 was shot down the previous day. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau echoed the U.S.’s statement saying the Ukranian 737 was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. This all happened while both Lufthansa Group flights were en route to Tehran. 

It is important to note that the Iran Civil Aviation Organization is the lead investigator of the crash and that they have not released a definitive cause of crash yet.

LH600 turning back towards Frankfurt while en route to Tehran on Jan. 9. (Photo: FlightRadar24)

As a result of this information, Lufthansa decided not to continue with the two flights citing, “the latest reports and a changed assessment of the security situation for the airspace around Tehran airport.” 

Lufthansa flight 600 turned back for Frankfurt almost exactly halfway into the flight while over Romania. Austrian Airlines flight 871 diverted to Sofia, Bulgaria, where it refueled and returned to Vienna. Both flights have been canceled for Friday. At this time, it is too early to determine whether the cancellations will extend into Saturday.

Asked whether the recent developments in Iran have affected passenger demand for Lufthansa’s daily Frankfurt flight, the airline told AirlineGeeks: “It is not yet possible to say anything about the operational impact of the bypassing of Iraq and Iran. The safety of our passengers and employees always has top priority.”

Following the crash of one of its 737 aircraft, Ukraine International Airlines has suspended its Tehran route indefinitely, pending the investigation into the crash. Despite the crash and heightened political tensions, the three major Persian Gulf carriers Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways continue to use both airspaces for their flights.

Mateen Kontoravdis
Mateen Kontoravdis
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