US Relaxes Iran Overflight Curbs
EghtesadOnline: The US Federal Aviation Administration is allowing US airlines to resume operations over large areas of the Persian Gulf after it barred American carriers from the area in the wake of tensions between Tehran and Washington.
A notice issued on Friday by FAA rescinded restrictions imposed on US air carriers in early January that prohibited flights over large swaths of the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman, Reuters reported.
“Iran has deescalated its military posture in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman as of early February 2020,” said the notice. “Given the de-escalation, the FAA assesses there is sufficient reduced risk of Iranian military miscalculation or misidentification that could affect US civil aviation operations.”
According to Financial Tribune, the notice applied to the airspaces of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Oman.
FAA, however, advised US carriers to “exercise caution and avoid operating” near the boundaries of the Tehran flight information region “whenever possible”.
“Military posturing and political tensions in the region remain elevated, and there remains some inadvertent risk to US civil aviation operations due to the potential for miscalculation or misidentification,” it said. “The situation in the region remains fluid and could quickly escalate, if circumstances change.”
It cited the Jan. 8 accidental downing by Iran of a Ukrainian passenger jet shortly after it took off from Tehran’s international airport, killing all 176 people aboard, as showing the inadvertent risk to civilian flights during periods of heightened military tensions.
The tragic accident happened after Iranian forces fired missiles at bases in Iraq hosting US troops. They were retaliating for a Jan. 2 US drone strike that killed General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Quds Force, the architect of Tehran’s regional security strategy.
In 1988, a US Navy ship shot down an Iranian airliner over the Strait of Hormuz, killing all 290 passengers and crew.
The FAA move to relax restrictions comes as, according to Iranian officials, Iranian airspace offers the shortest and hence most economic route in the region as the country is located at an intersection of many regional flights.
Qatar Airways, Emirates and several other Persian Gulf airlines continued to fly over Iranian airspace and to cities in the country, even as other international carriers rerouted planes after the United States and Iran traded military strikes.
Executives and analysts said carriers in the Persian Gulf, a major transit stop between European and Asian destinations, have few alternative routes to choose from in an area where much of the airspace is kept clear of civilian aircraft for military use, Reuters reported last month.
Persian Gulf carriers have grown into major airlines even as regional tensions in recent decades erupted into conflict. Rerouting flights hurts profits, they say, although they also insist that they take every precaution to keep passengers safe.
“Iranian airspace is important for all carriers in this region,” said Adil al-Ghaith, Emirates’ senior vice president for commercial operations in Persian Gulf, Middle East and Iran.
Dubai-based Emirates and sister carrier flydubai together serve 10 cities in Iran and Iraq, and have continued to use the airspace of both countries for other flights.
Kuwait Airways and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways have also continued using Iranian airspace.
“We will continue to fly to Iran because Iran is an important country to us and it is our neighbor and we want to serve the people of Iran,” Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar al-Baker said on the sidelines of a Kuwait air show.
Russian airlines too have continued to use Iran’s airspace, according to the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency.
"Russian airlines continue to use Iran’s airspace with security measures recommended by the Federal Air Transport Agency taken, including correcting the flight’s routes and schedule," the message informs, as reported by TASS news agency.
The federal agency added that Russian plane crews had not noted any negative factors in the work of Iranian air controllers.
"Members of the session have stated that the measures taken to ensure safety of flights within the Iranian airspace are enough for now," the message read. "The Federal Air Transport Agency continues to monitor the situation. If necessary, additional security recommendations will be made for Russian air carriers."
Meanwhile, Lufthansa, Air France, Singapore Airlines and Qantas were among international airlines that have rerouted flights to avoid Iran as well as Iraq since the military strikes last month.