FAA drops ban on flights over the Persian Gulf

Feb 17, 2020

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The Federal Aviation Administration said civilian flights from the U.S. can once again overfly the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, a move that comes as military tensions between the U.S. and Iran have ratcheted down.

The FAA cited Iranian military de-escalation as the reason for the change.

“The FAA assesses there is sufficiently reduced risk of Iranian military miscalculation or misidentification that could affect U.S. civil aviation operations in the overwater airspace above the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman,” the agency said in a statement.

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The FAA’s update coincides with a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) advising that civil flight operations can resume over the Gulf.

The FAA initially barred U.S. pilots and flights from the region after conflict with Iran spilled over into aviation. That came Jan. 8, when Iranian forces mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian airliner bound for Kiev. The incident came shortly after Iran had fired missiles at U.S. military installations in Iraq in retaliation for a Jan. 3 drone strike by the U.S. that killed an Iranian general

FedEx Flight 8 from Memphis to Dubai. The green line
FedEx Flight 8 from Memphis to Dubai on Feb. 14. The green and white line shows the plane’s actual path, which avoids the Persian Gulf, and the dotted blue line shows the most direct path on the route, which overflies the Persian Gulf. (Image courtesy of FlightAware.)

The FAA’s ban affected U.S. pilots and commercial flights by U.S. airlines. Though no U.S. passenger carriers currently operate routes that regularly overfly the region, cargo operators like FedEx and UPS do, and the FAA’s guidance is frequently followed by aviation authorities in other parts of the world.

Allowing flights to resume over the Persian Gulf eases a potential logistical challenge for airlines flying between the U.S. and the Middle East. For airlines that opted to adhere to the FAA’s airspace restriction, flights from the region faced circuitous routings that avoided the Gulf and parts of Iran and Iraq.

While the latest update permits U.S. civilian aircraft to traverse overwater Gulf routes, the airspace over Iran and Iraq remains a concern for the FAA.

The agency banned U.S. airlines from airspace over Iraq, Iran and the Gulf in early January amid a rising threat of armed conflict in the region.

Even with the new guidance, the FAA cautioned airspace over the Gulf – particularly near Iran – remains somewhat unstable.

“The situation in the region remains fluid and could quickly escalate if circumstances change,” the document said.

Featured photo by aviation-images.com/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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