How Will the Iran Airspace Ban Affect Commercial Aviation?

Jun 21, 2019

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On Friday morning, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a Notice to Airmen, an official instruction to pilots of US-registered aircraft, banning them from flying over Iranian-administered airspace in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.

The notice read: “Flights are not permitted in the overwater area of the Tehran Flight Information Region until further notice, due to heightened military activities and increased political tensions,” and follows increasing tensions between the US and Iran. The Tehran Flight Information Region means areas of the Gulf where air traffic control is handled by Iran and the overwater region includes the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman.

This restriction comes after a US Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk drone was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile on June 20, which Iran says was in its airspace. The notice currently only affects aircraft registered in the US.

US-based passenger aircraft are not commonly seen in this area, given the lack of routes flown by US airlines to the Middle East. The Tehran Flight Information Region is a busy traffic area with Middle Eastern-based carriers like Emirates and Qatar operating flights to Iran. As these aircraft are not US-registered, they are not subject to the FAA notice. That said, on Thursday night, United Airlines said that it was canceling its service to Mumbai (BOM) because of safety concerns.

As of time of writing, there are several passenger planes flying over Iran from the likes of Aeroflot, Etihad and Air India.

Photo by FlightRadar24
Photo by FlightRadar24.

For US-registered airlines, it is unlikely to have a significant impact for passengers in terms of changes to flight paths, which may extend flight times. If foreign-registered aircraft in the Gulf regions choose to adopt this restriction (or their local governments issue similar notices), you may find flight times on these airlines extended, which can affect punctuality if aircraft need to fly around a particular airspace, rather than directly through it.

If there is sufficient public concern about the safety of flying over this area, other, non-US airlines may voluntarily adopt the FAA instructions, to prevent concerned passengers from booking elsewhere. Europe-based KLM, Lufthansa and British Airways and Australia’s Qantas have already said they will avoid the airspace.

​”Our safety and security team are constantly liaising with authorities around the world as part of their comprehensive risk assessment into every route we operate,” a British Airways spokesperson told TPG.

Etihad Airways said that it’s “carefully monitoring” the situation.

Qatar Airways already suffers from having to fly indirect flight paths due to the now longstanding diplomatic crisis between Qatar and other Gulf countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. That means Qatar Airways is restricted not only from operating flights to these countries, but also flying through their airspace to reach destinations further afield.

This is a developing story — stay tuned to TPG for updates.

Featured image by FlightRadar24.

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