Airlines Adjust Routing, Cancel Flights To Avoid Iran-Iraq Airspace

Credit: Tehran Airport / Twitter

Airlines are making changes to their flight planning and schedules to avoid Iranian and Iraqi airspace amid growing military tensions between the U.S. and Iran—and after a Ukrainian International Airlines (UIA) aircraft crashed after take-off from Tehran, killing everyone on board. 

Iran launched missile strikes against U.S. bases in Iraq at about 5:30 p.m. local time on Jan. 7. The FAA subsequently issued a notice prohibiting U.S. carriers from flying over Iran, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. 

UIA flight PS752, a Boeing 737-800 with more than 170 passengers and crew on board, crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport at around 6.10 a.m. local time Jan. 8. 

In a statement a few hours later, Ukraine’s prime minister Oleksiy Honcharuk banned the country’s airlines from Iranian airspace “from Jan. 9, 00:00 [local time] until [we find] out the reasons of the disaster.”

Other airlines are also avoiding flying over the region and in some cases canceling flights as the tensions mount. 

Qantas said it was adjusting the flight paths on its route between Perth and London “until further notice,” to avoid Iran/Iraq airspace. The change would add 40-50 min. to the QF9 Perth-London leg, so the airline would have to reduce the passenger load on this flight to carry more fuel. The return London-Perth leg, QF10, will have an unchanged flight time and full passenger load, as it will have more favorable prevailing winds. Qantas said it was also considering rerouting QF9 over Asia and adding a fueling stop in Hong Kong or Singapore so it could fly with a full load.

Lufthansa Group is also making changes, canceling Lufthansa flights LH 600 and 601 from and to Tehran Jan. 8 “as a precautionary measure,” it said in an emailed statement. In addition, Austrian Airlines’ flight OS829/830 from/to Erbil was also canceled. “In the meantime, Lufthansa Group Security has worked with national and international authorities to obtain a precise picture of the situation on the ground. Since Tehran Airport is open and there are no security restrictions (NOTAM) for the approach route or the area around the airport, Austrian Airlines will operate today’s flight OS 871 to Tehran with a delay of around 6 hours (departure planned for 7.25 p.m.),” the group said. 

Lufthansa plans to resume its route tomorrow, the airline said, adding that it remained in constant contact with national and international authorities and would decide on a daily basis on the operation of flights and their organization. “Lufthansa Group Airlines will continue to fly around Iranian and Iraqi airspace. It is not yet possible to say anything about the operational impact of the bypassing of Iraq and Iran. The safety of our passengers and employees always has top priority,” the group said.  

Air France also said it had suspended all flights over Iranian and Iraqi airspace until further notice. 

“As a precautionary measure and as soon as ongoing air strikes were announced, Air France has decided to suspend all flights over Iranian and Iraqi airspace until further notice,” a spokesman said. “Air France is constantly monitoring the geopolitical situation of the territories served and overflown by the company’s aircraft. Flight plans are adjusted in real time according to the decisions of the French and regional authorities, throughout the world, in order to ensure the highest level of flight safety.”

Emirates Airline said it had canceled its Jan. 8 flights EK943 from Dubai to Baghdad and EK944 from Baghdad to Dubai, citing operational reasons. “We are carefully monitoring the developments and are in close contact with the relevant government authorities with regards to our flight operations, and will make further operational changes if required,” an Emirates spokesperson said.  “As always, the safety of our passengers, crew and aircraft is our number one priority and will not be compromised.” 

Flydubai, which operates four times a week to Baghdad, also canceled its Jan. 8 Baghdad service. A spokesperson said the airline is “directly contacting passengers who have been affected. Our flights to Basra and Najaf this morning will operate. We are liaising with the relevant authorities and continue to monitor the situation closely.” 

A British Airways spokesman said the airline is “in constant contact with our partners around the world to assess the security of our routes and will always take action where appropriate. We would never operate a flight unless it was safe to do so.”

Vietnam Airlines said it would reroute all flights between Vietnam and Europe from Jan. 8, making appropriate adjustments to its routes to avoid areas of potential instability although it has no regular flights to/from Europe that pass through Iranian or Iraqi airspace. The airline said it will continue to make adjustments until tensions in the Middle East subside.