Commercial airlines reroute flights amid US-Iran tensions

NEW DELHI (AP) – Commercial airlines yesterday rerouted flights crossing the Middle East to avoid possible danger amid escalating tensions between the United States (US) and Iran.

The flight restrictions reflected fears that the conflict between the long-time foes could ratchet up following Iranian ballistic missile strikes on Tuesday on two Iraqi bases that house US troops. Those strikes were retaliation for the US killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike near Baghdad last week.

Poland’s national carrier, PLL LOT, said last Saturday — even before Iran’s retaliatory strike — that it was changing routes to bypass Iran’s airspace.

Paris-based Air France and Dutch carrier KLM both said yesterday they had suspended all flights over Iran and Iraq airspace indefinitely.

Australian carrier Qantas said it was altering its London to Perth, Australia, route to avoid Iranian and Iraqi airspace until further notice. The longer route meant that Qantas would have to carry fewer passengers and more fuel to remain in the air for an extra 40 to 50 minutes.

File photo shows two Qantas planes on the runway at Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia. PHOTO: AP

Malaysia Airlines said that “due to recent events”, its planes would avoid Iranian airspace.

Singapore Airlines also said that its flights to Europe would be re-routed to avoid Iran.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it was barring American pilots and carriers from flying in areas of Iraqi, Iranian and some Persian Gulf airspace. The agency warned of the “potential for miscalculation or mis-identification” for civilian aircraft amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran.

Such restrictions are often precautionary in nature to prevent civilian aircraft from being confused for ones engaged in armed conflict. The FAA said the restrictions were being issued due to “heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the Middle East, which present an inadvertent risk to US civil aviation operations.” Following the FAA, India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation advised Indian commercial carriers to avoid Iranian, Iraqi and Persian Gulf airspace.

German airline Lufthansa said it had cancelled its flight from Frankfurt to Tehran yesterday and another flight on Saturday in Erbil in light of the current situation. Lufthansa subsidiary Austrian Airlines also cancelled service to Erbil.

Swiss International Air Lines, another Lufthansa subsidiary, also said it was avoiding Iranian and Iraqi airspace for the time being.

The Russian aviation agency, Rosaviatsia, issued an official recommendation for all Russian airlines to avoid flying over Iran, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman “due to existing risks for the safety of international civil flights”.

Russia’s biggest private airline, S7, said it would reroute its twice-a-week flight from the Siberian city of Novosibirsk to Dubai.

Russian carrier Ural Airlines was working up alternative routes for its flights to Bahrain, Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah to avoid flying over Iranian airspace, the carrier’s spokeswoman said yesterday.

At least two Kazakh airlines — Air Astana and SCAT — were considering rerouting or cancelling their flights over Iran following the crash of a Ukrainian airliner that killed 176 people.

The plane had taken off from Imam Khomeini International Airport in the Iranian capital when a fire struck one of its engines, said Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry.

Kazakh officials said that Air Astana, the country’s flagship carrier, “is currently holding a meeting on whether to reroute or ban” flights. SCAT, one of the largest airlines in Kazakhstan, told Russia’s Interfax news agency that it was also considering rerouting flights.