International airlines are actively avoiding Iranian airspace following the recent downing of a US drone in the area. The drone was shot down last Thursday using a surface to air missile that can target overflying craft up to 60,000ft in altitude – double that of a typical commercial jet. As a result, the FAA has banned US airlines from overflying Iran, and numerous other carriers are taking steps to avoid the area.
Why are airlines avoiding Iran?
The active avoidance of Iranian airspace has come about as a result of the shooting down of an unarmed RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drone over the Straits of Hormuz. The FAA say that the drone was in international airspace at the time of the attack, although Iran claim it was over Iranian airspace.
The biggest concern here was that the attack took place in the vicinity of civil aviation routes. According to The New York Times, the FAA’s flight tracking systems indicated a civil aircraft was within 45 nautical miles of the drone when it was shot down.
As a result, the FAA issued a Notice To Airmen (NOTAM) to all US carriers prohibiting traffic over the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
#FAA issued #NOTAM warning pilots that flights are not permitted in the overwater area of the Tehran Flight Information Region until further notice, due to heightened military activities and increased political tensions. https://t.co/BQ2GOeFSEn pic.twitter.com/4t1OWEzkYZ
— The FAA (@FAANews) June 21, 2019
Although the FAA ban doesn’t extend to air carriers from other nations, many airlines around the world have followed their lead. No doubt the incident involving Malaysia Airlines MH17 is playing on their minds, and are keen to take steps to avoid any misplaced threats.
Which airlines are avoiding Iranian airspace?
Clearly, all US airlines are no longer flying over Iran. As a result, United cancelled its service between India and Newark up to the 1st September 2019. Both Delta and American Airlines have also confirmed they will not be flying over Iran.
British Airways have adhered to the FAA guidance too, operating flights as normal but taking alternative routes. Qantas is rerouting its Australia to London flights, and both Lufthansa and KLM are keenly avoiding the Strait. Lufthansa, however, are continuing services to Tehran at the current time.
On Saturday, the Times of India reports that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DCGA) has not banned flying over Iran, but that they are working with airlines to avoid Iranian airspace. The impact is only expected to affect some of Air India’s flights coming from the west, and IndiGo’s Doha to Istanbul service.
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All Indian operators in consultation with DGCA have decided to avoid the affected part of Iranian Airspace to ensure safe travel for the passengers. They will re-route flights suitably.
— DGCA (@DGCAIndia) June 22, 2019
Most difficult in the Middle East
“In light of the current situation, Emirates has taken precautionary measures including rerouting all flights away from areas of possible conflict.”
The situation is perhaps most difficult for these Gulf airlines, as they all operate a high number of long haul routes from their hub airports along the Persian Gulf. They are already faced with a number of areas to avoid, including Syria and the North Sinai in Egypt. Many flights also avoid Pakistani airspace, leaving these airlines with limited routes to travel between Europe and the Middle East.
For Qatar, the situation is even more dire. With a blockade still in place by its Gulf neighbors, the airline frequently routes over Iran to make connections in the west. At the time of writing, flights still appear to be traveling over Iran, including the Straits of Hormuz, but it seems the airline has few other options.