Airlines begin diverting around Iran after missile strike sparks FAA ban

FAA makes large chunk of Middle East airspace off-limits to US carriers and other airlines opt to re-route flights amid security concerns
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Airlines have begun routing around Iranian airspace and US regulators have placed a ban on US carriers from operating in airspace over Iraq, Iran, the Gulf of Oman and the waters between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Iran fired ballistic missiles at military bases housing US military personnel in Iraq in an escalation of tensions following a US drone strike that killed a top Iranian general last week.   

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it issued the airspace ban “due to heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the Middle East, which present an inadvertent risk to US civil aviation operations”.

While the ban applies to US airlines, many foreign operators take advice from the FAA very seriously and have opted to avoid certain airspace over the Arabian Peninsula.

It is thought that diverted flight paths could have commercial implications on carriers, including greater congestion and higher fuel costs as planes are forced to fly longer distances.

Among the major airlines diverting their regular flight paths are Singapore Airlines, Air Canada, Korean Air Lines and all US carriers.

Others, including Etihad and Emirates, have said that they are closely monitoring the situation. Flight tracking site FlightRadar24 shows a fair number of key operators still flying over Iran and Iraq.

In 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down by a missile over Ukraine and in June 2019 the FAA prohibited US airlines from flying below 26,000ft over Iran and Iraq after a US drone was shot down by Iran.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released a statement reminding countries and their regulators of their obligation to communicate potential risks to civil aviation.

IATA has also activated a team to support “effective coordination and communication” between airlines and countries amid the rising tensions. Made up of airlines, regulators and air navigation services, the team will aim to share potential risks quickly.

OPSGROUP described the FAA’s bans as “significant”. It said: “Flights headed to/from the main airports in the region such as Dubai will now need to route through Saudi Arabia's airspace.”

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