Heightened military activities and political tensions between the United States and Iran, following the latter shooting down an American surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz, has affected east-bound flight operations for US-based carriers as well as some Asian carriers passing though the region.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Friday issued an emergency directive restricting US-registered aircraft from operating over the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the overwater area of the Tehran airspace.
Following the US aviation regulator’s order, United Airlines temporarily suspended its Newark-Mumbai service and even cancelled the return leg of the flight from Mumbai on Friday. United is currently the only US-based airline to fly to India.
Flag-carrier Air India operates direct flights from various Indian stations to US cities of New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington DC. United’s Newark-Delhi service is already under suspension due to restrictions over Pakistan airspace.
“The FAA has issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) prohibiting US-registered aircraft from operating over the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman. The NOTAM warns pilots that 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 that might place commercial flights at risk. The NOTAM applies to all US air carriers and commercial operators,” the US watchdog said in a statement.
Apart from US carriers, several other airlines have also avoided flying over the tensed region as a precautionary measure. According to live flight tracking portal Flightradar24, Malaysian Airlines’ Kuala Lumpur-London flight, which till Thursday flew over the Strait of Hormuz, on Friday took a detour avoiding the region. Similarly, a Singapore Airlines flight to London also took a different route to avoid flying over the region.
In addition to this, carriers like KLM, Lufthansa, Qantas and British Airways have also said that their flights will rerouted to prevent flying over the tensed region.There have been precedents where civilian flights have come under safety threat when flying over regions with ongoing geopolitical tensions. The most recent case being shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 using a surface-to-air missile over eastern Ukraine in 2014 at the height of the Crimean crisis. Similarly, in 1983, a Korean Air passenger aircraft was shot down in restricted Soviet airspace by a Russian fighter jet during the Cold War. In both cases, the passenger jets were mistaken for military or spy planes.
Furthermore, in July 1988, Iran Air’s flight 655 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile fired by a US Navy ship exchanging fire with Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf.
Among Indian carriers, an Air India spokesperson said that the airline’s services were operating normally. India’s largest airline IndiGo said in a statement: “IndiGo is operating flights as normal until specific instructions from the authorities. We have not received any advisory notices as yet.”