On Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) made a warning to all “U.S. air carriers and commercial operators” to exercise caution when flying in the airspace over the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The warning states that civilian aircraft face a higher risk due to escalating political tensions in the region.
The official notice made by the FAA was KICZ A0015/19-SECURITY and titled “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ADVISORY FOR OVERWATER AIRSPACE ABOVE THE PERSIAN GULF AND GULF OF OMAN”. The advisory went into more specific detail about the areas by saying:
Potentially affected overwater space above the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman includes portions of the Tehran FIR (OIXX), Baghdad FIR (ORBB), Kuwait FIR (OKAC), Jeddah FIR (OEJD), Bahrain FIR (OBBB), Emirates FIR (OMAE) and Muscat FIR (OOMM).
FIR stands for flight information region and is set by international agreement via the ICAO – or International Civil Aviation Organization. According to Wikipedia, every portion of the sky belongs to a specific FIR. As there is no standard size for an FIR, the airspace of a smaller country may be a single FIR while a larger country’s airspace may subdivide into multiple regional FIRs.
The FAA advisory also said aircraft flying over the region could experience “inadvertent GPS interference and other communications jamming, which could occur with little to no warning”.
Tensions with Iran
While the warning cites “increased political tensions in the region” without naming any specific nation, it comes at a time when tensions between the United States and Iran are more intense than they have been for some time.
The U.S. has already sent additional warships and planes to the Middle East following. Tensions have been growing between the two nations since President Trump withdrew from the 2015 international deal. The deal was a plan to ease sanctions in exchange for ending Iran’s nuclear programme.
Flights at risk
After some research, it appears that none of the major U.S. carriers operate flights in the region. The closest thing found was a previous route between Atlanta and Dubai flown by Delta airlines. However, according to Arabian Business, the flight from Atlanta to Dubai was stopped in 2016 due to allegations of unfair competition with the UAE’s carriers.
This warning is especially relevant in the wake of the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. The Boeing 777 made contact with a surface-to-air missile. The missile came from “pro-Russian separatist territory” in Ukraine. 283 passengers and 15 crew lost their lives.
Airliner shootdown incidents are extremely rare, but have happened on several occasions throughout history. Previous to MH17, a Korean Airlines 747 was shot down by a Soviet fighter in 1983. The result was the deaths of the 269 passengers and crew on board.
This news comes just as Syria is reopening its airspace to commercial aircraft. In April we reported that Qatar Airways is again flying routes through Syrian airspace despite the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) extending the validity of a conflict zone warning for Syria to October 25th 2019.