Passenger carriers reroute Middle East flights

World | 9 Jan 2020 9:58 am

Commercial airlines are rerouting flights throughout the Middle East to avoid potential danger during heightened tensions between the United States and Iran.

Jumbled schedules could affect as many as 15,000 passengers per day, lengthen flight times by an average of 30 to 90 minutes, and severely bruise the bottom line for airlines, industry analysts said.

There is anxiety that the conflict between the longtime foes could intensify following Iranian ballistic missile strikes Wednesday on two Iraqi bases that house U.S. troops. The attacks were retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike near Baghdad last week.

“In a war situation, the first casualty is always air transport,” said Dubai-based aviation consult Mark Martin, pointing to airline bankruptcies during the Persian Gulf and Yugoslav wars.

At least 500 commercial flights travel through Iranian and Iraqi airspace daily, Martin said.

A Ukrainian passenger jet crashed shortly after taking off from Iran’s capital Wednesday killing 167 passengers and nine crew members just hours after Iran’s ballistic missile attack, but Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the 3½-year-old Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Ukrainian officials initially agreed, but later backed away and declined to offer a cause while the investigation is ongoing.

Still, at least two Kazakh airlines — Air Astana and SCAT — were considering rerouting or canceling their flights over Iran following the crash, which killed all 176 passengers.

Poland’s national carrier, PLL LOT, said Saturday that it was changing routes to bypass Iran’s airspace.

A suite of other European carriers followed yesterday, and the restrictions were expected to “further depress” air travel between Iran and Western Europe, which saw strong growth after the Iran nuclear deal but a sharp dive when President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement and reimposed sanctions, according to the Sydney-based Center for Aviation consultancy.

Air France and Dutch carrier KLM both said that they had suspended all flights over Iranian and Iraqi airspace indefinitely.

German airline Lufthansa and two of its subsidiaries also canceled flights to Iraq.

The Russian aviation agency, Rosaviatsia, issued an official recommendation for all Russian airlines to avoid flying over Iran, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman “due to existing risks for the safety of international civil flights.”-AP

 

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