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Will my flight be going over Iran? Some airlines are avoiding Iranian and Iraqi airspace

10 Jan 2020 by Seher Asaf
Passenger airplane taking off at sunset (iStock)

Some airlines around the world are re-routing flights that fly over Iran and Iraqi airspace after Iran launched missiles at two Iraqi military bases that house US forces on January 8, and after US and other allied officials said that an Iranian missile accidentally shot down a Ukrainian aircraft departing Tehran.

This includes major carriers based in the Asia-Pacific region such as Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and Taiwan’s Eva Air which all announced that they would opt for different routes for their flights to and from Europe. These airlines made their announcements after the missile attack on the Iraqi bases, but before the news broke that the Ukrainian aircraft was likely shot down.

Asked for an update on the situation following the news of the plane being shot down, Singapore Airlines said in an email: “In view of the current situation in the Middle East, all Singapore Airlines flights to and from Europe have not been flying over Iranian air space since 6 January 2020. The new routes do not significantly change flight times for these flights.

“With regards to flights over Iraqi airspace, Singapore Airlines has not operated flights over this area since 2012. We are closely monitoring the situation in the region and will take the appropriate precautions if necessary.”

Eva Air said today that it does not have an updated statement.

Business Traveller Asia-Pacific has also contacted Qantas, Vietnam Airlines, Qatar Airways for an update today on the situation regarding their flights over Iran and Iraq airspace.

On January 7, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced its decision to ban US carriers from flying in the airspace over Iraq, Iran, the Gulf of Oman and the waters between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The FAA said in a notice to airmen (NOTAM) that “due to heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the Middle East, which present an inadvertent risk to US civil aviation operations due to potential for miscalculation or misidentification”.

NOTAMs warn pilots of potential hazards along a flight route or at a specific location.

FAA bans US airlines from flying over Iraq and Iran

The attacks by Iran followed a US airstrike last week that killed a top Iranian general. There were no initial reports of any US casualties from the attack, according to CNN.

Below our more details on how your flight might impacted.

Qantas

Australia’s flag carrier said it is adjusting its flight paths over the Middle East to avoid the airspace over Iraq and Iran until further notice.

Its flights between London and Perth (Flight QF9 and QF10) are the only Qantas flights affected by this change. The airline added that  the new flight path will increase the flying time by about 40-50 minutes on QF9, and thus the airline will need to “reduce the number of passengers on board in order to carry more fuel”.

“We’re looking at temporarily routing QF9 through Asia until we’re able to return to our normal flight path through the Middle East. This would mean a fuel stop in a city like Singapore or Hong Kong but it would enable us to still carry a full load of passengers on these heavily-booked flights, and minimise disruption that way. We’ll reach out to passengers directly if there’s any change to their booking,” a spokesperson told Business Traveller Asia-Pacific on 9 January.

Qantas’ flight QF10 will operate with a full passenger load with the same flight duration “due to prevailing winds”.

The airline added that its other flights to and from London (QF1 and QF2) are unaffected as they operate through an alternative flight path.

Malaysia Airlines

A spokesperson from Malaysia Airlines told Business Traveller Asia-Pacific today that it would continue to avoid Iranian and Iraqi airspace for all its flights to the Middle East and London.

The airline issued a travel advisory on its website on January 8 saying: “Malaysia Airlines does not fly over the airspace of Iraq on its flights to/from London, Jeddah and Medina. Due to recent events involving Iran, Malaysia Airlines has avoided the conflict airspace of Iran”.

The Malaysian flag carrier added: “The airline performs active monitoring through its Flight Monitoring System and is guided by various assessments including global security reports and NOTAMs by respective airspace control authorities. All our aircraft are equipped with Satellite Communication (SATCOM) for immediate communication with the aircraft for any critical information and action such as reroute. Safety is of utmost importance to Malaysia Airlines.”

The only European destination Malaysia Airlines flies to is London.

Eva Air 

Eva Air confirmed in an email on January 9 that its flight paths to Europe do not pass over Iraq. It said it will be diverting all its flights headed to and from European cities such as Amsterdam, London, Paris, and Vienna to avoid Iran’s airspace. 

“Due to the regional tensions, we have rerouted our flights to avoid Iranian airspace from 06:00 a.m., Jan 8, 2020 (Taipei time) and to ensure safety,” a spokesperson from the airline said in an email. 

Vietnam Airlines 

The carrier said it will reroute all flight routes between Vietnam and Europe “to keep distance from areas that might be impacted by rising tensions in the Middle East”.

“Vietnam Airlines will make appropriate adjustments to its routes to avoid areas of potential instability (even though it has no regular flights to/from Europe that pass through Iranian or Iraqi airspace,” the airline said in a press release.

The airline is encouraging passengers travelling to and from destinations in Europe to regularly check the airline’s official website and Facebook page for updates. The carrier currently flies to Berlin, Frankfurt and London.

Not all Middle Eastern carriers are diverting flights

Qatar Airways is still using Iranian and Iraqi airspace. It said its services are currently operating normally in a statement on the airline’s website. This includes the airline’s flights to Iraq.

“The safety of our passengers and employees is of the highest importance, and we continue to monitor developments closely,” the airline said in the statement.

When Business Traveller Asia-Pacific checked FlightRadar24, a flight tracking website, late Friday morning (Hong Kong time), at least one Qatar Airways passenger flight was flying over Iran. This was QT818 from Doha to Hong Kong operated by a Boeing 777-300ER (see below image).

Screengrab from FlightRadar 24

Emirates cancelled its return flight from Dubai to Baghdad (EK 943) on January 8. A spokesperson from the airline confirmed with Business Traveller Asia-Pacific in an email on January 13 that all of its flights have resumed back to normal, and no other flights have been cancelled or re-routed.

“Related departments from Emirates are carefully monitoring the development and are in close contact with the relevant government authorities with regards to flight operations, and will make further operational changes if required,” added the Emirates spokesperson.

Budget airline Flydubai said it had canceled a scheduled flight on Wednesday from Dubai to Baghdad but was continuing flights to Basra and Najaf.

Which other airlines are flying over Iran? 

Other international airlines flying over Iran at around midday Hong Kong time on Friday were Turkish flag carrier Turkish Airlines, Turkish low-cost carrier Pegasus Airlines, and Emirati low-cost carrier Air Arabia.

FlightRadar24 noted in a Tweet that a Lufthansa operated flight to Tehran turned around over Romania and returned to Frankfurt.

If you are concerned about boarding a flight that may be flying over Iraqi or Iranian airspace, you may wish to contact your carrier ahead of the flight for more information, as well as to monitor media reports about the ongoing situation.

Additional reporting by Michael Allen

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