Following the crash of Ukraine International Airlines PS752 outside Tehran on Wednesday and the escalation of hostilities in the region, several airlines announced they would no longer be overflying the area. Additionally, some regulatory authorities such as the FAA banned its airlines from the airspace.
Not all airlines are avoiding the corridor
But not every airline is avoiding the area. Local airlines, for instance, have limited options. Rather than focusing on which airlines are avoiding the area, let’s take a look at which airlines are still flying through the Iraq-Iran corridor.
The first thing to consider is that the region is heavily trafficked. Just to the south are the Gulf states with their mega hubs. And then there’s Saudi Arabia, one of the busiest aviation markets in the world. Looking at flight radar activity, you can see bands of traffic through Saudi Arabia, keeping south of Iraq, bands of traffic north of Iran – over the Caspian Sea and down through Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. Then there is the band of traffic using the Iraq-Iran corridor. Admittedly, it is the thinnest band of traffic but there is still significant traffic in the Iraq Iran region.
Identifying who was still flying the Iraq-Iran corridor came down to identifying aircraft on the flight radar. Naturally, we are seeing local airlines like Tehran based Iran Air, Mahan Air and Kish Air.
Then we’re identifying regional carriers. At the time of writing this article, there was a Qatar Airways Boeing 777 heading straight down the guts of the corridor, out of Amsterdam and en route to Doha. It was hot on the heels of another Qatar Airways Boeing 777 coming down from Berlin. Qatar Airways, of course, has limited options when flying in and out of its Doha base, with many regional countries (including Saudi Arabia and Egypt) closing their airspace to the airline as part of a wider economic boycott of Qatar.
An Emirates A380 from London was winding its way down to Dubai, studiously keeping on the Iraqi side of the Iraq-Iran border. There is also quite a lot of Turkish Airlines and Pegasus Airlines activity in the region.
A Kuwait Airways flight to Delhi is electing to head out over Iran rather and scoot down the Persian Gulf and out over the top of the Arabian Sea.
Activity in the corridor all local and regional airlines
Analyzing the airlines overflying the Iraq-Iran corridor reveals they are exclusively local and regional airlines. Also, most of the airline traffic in the busy southern corridor through Saudi Arabia is local or regional. There are a few exceptions. There’s a British Airways flight en route to Bengaluru that has overflown the Mediterranean, the top of the Red Sea and the breadth of Saudi Arabia before heading out over Oman. But British Airways is putting plenty of distance between its plane and the Iraq-Iran corridor.
It’s when you head north to that northern corridor over Afghanistan that you start seeing the big-name international carriers running their long haul flights. Lots of Turkish Airlines flights, BA flights heading to London, KLM flights and Air France flights.
The FAA may have banned US carriers from the Iraq Iran corridor, but this is a part of the world you generally don’t see US carriers in.
So what could we conclude? Most airlines, if they have a choice, are avoiding the Iraq Iran corridor. Most of the activity in the corridor is from local carriers who either cease flying or use local airspace. There’s also a strong presence from regional carriers.
Some airlines, like Qatar, have no viable choice but to use the Iraq-Iran corridor. Turkish Airlines is another big regional carrier with a significant presence in the corridor. They could viably send a lot of their Gulf bound flights down over the Mediterranean and Saudi Arabia. At this point, they’ve chosen not to.
We’ve reached out to Turkish Airlines asking if they planned to reroute any of their flights presently using the Iraq-Iran corridor. We’ll update when they get back to us.