Updated as of noon EST 8 JAN 2020 with additional airline details
The Federal Aviation Administration issued emergency directives on Tuesday evening prohibiting US aircraft from operating over Iran, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The three NOTAMs came in response to escalating military activity in the region. Iran launched an attack just hours prior targeting bases that house US troops, among other things.
Citing an increased risk “due to the potential for miscalculation or mis-identification” of aircraft in the named regions the FAA’s move prohibits US-licensed pilots or US-registered aircraft from flying in those areas unless in the service of a foreign airline.
Limited – but growing – impact so far
The immediate direct impact of the NOTAMs is limited. US carriers do not generally fly in those areas anyways as their route networks don’t cross Iran and Iraq. But the broader impact is very real.
British Airways had a couple flights approaching Iraqi airspace as the NOTAMs were issued. Those flights found a new route to take.
Singapore Airlines will not transit Iranian airspace in the current climate. This affects some the carrier’s flights to Europe from its home hub. Reviewing recent flight history, however, suggests that many of the carrier’s flights have been avoiding Iranian airspace for a couple weeks (~22 December 2019), not just the past few hours.
Ukraine International Airlines suspended all flights to Tehran effective immediately following the crash of its 737-800 departing early on Wednesday. All souls on board were lost in the incident. Initial reports cited engine troubles but those have since been retracted while image analysis suggests projectile holes in the fuselage and a wing section. It is unclear if these are a cause or result of the crash.
KLM announced on Wednesday morning that it would no longer overfly the region with “Flights to a number of Southeast Asian destinations and destinations in the Middle East will be operated by using alternative routes.” Air France appears to be suspending flights in the region, though an official statement from the carrier is not as obvious.
Lufthansa suspended its daily Tehran flight as of Wednesday. It also started to reroute flights around the two countries later on Wednesday after initially not changing its flight paths.
Vietnam Airlines similarly announced that it will reroute all flight routes between Vietnam and Europe to keep distance from areas that might be impacted by rising tensions in the Middle East.
Qantas will reroute its Perth-London service, a move that adds 40-50 minutes to the westbound flight. The new route will require blocking seats on board to reduce passenger count in favor of additional fuel. Qantas could also add a technical stop en route to refuel if it chooses to carry a full passenger load. Singapore and Hong Kong have been tipped as the likely stop locations. The eastbound flight from London operates with a tailwind and loads should remain unaffected.
Swiss flights to Dubai appear to be avoiding Iran and Iraq as of Wednesday.
Turkish flights appear to be avoiding Iran and Iraq airspace in some cases, but not entirely. This includes destinations like Dubai where it would be VERY difficult as well as further into Southeast Asia where the impact would be lower.
Many still flying
Because the NOTAMs do not apply to foreign carriers many are still operating flights over the affected areas. Lufthansa and Air France are two European carriers that continued to operate over Iraqi and Iranian airspace tonight. As morning dawned in Europe, however, it appears that both carriers chose to alter flight routings (see update above). Lufthansa also cancelled its daily Tehran services.
And the Middle East/GCC carriers show no signs of changing their operations as of yet. How those carriers respond given the high number of passengers from the US and Europe using their hubs as transit points will be most interesting to watch unfold. It is not hard to imagine business travelers especially facing new corporate policies that prohibit use of airlines that fly in the FAA-blocked airspace, even if the airlines are permitted to continue those operations.
Regional flights to Iran and Iraq are also still operating, at least for now.
Much like the decision for airlines to stop service to Baghdad entirely these moves will be airline specific for a while yet. And the situation is very, very fluid.