The Iranian airspace is an important route for Europe-bound flights. Last week, a $130 million US surveillance drone was shot down over the Strait of Hormuz in an unprovoked attack. The Iranian Government is reporting that the drone was over the Iranian airspace but the Pentagon has denied this and believes it was over international waters when it was shot down. The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, General Qasem Soleimani has stated that the attack was intended as a clear message that his country will defend itself and that Iran will respond to foreign aggression categorically and absolutely.

At the time of the attack, a passenger jet was just 45 miles away. Preparations had been made by the US for retaliatory attacks on several Iranian targets including missile batteries and radar, but these attacks were suddenly withdrawn due to concerns about human casualties.

Iranian Airspace drone


The FAA issue emergency order disallowing flights over Iranian Airspace

In response, the US Federal Aviation Administration has issued an emergency order disallowing any US airlines to fly over the area concerned to avoid the chance of Iranian anti-aircraft gunners mistaking the aircraft for military jets. The drone involved was unmanned, but it was similar in size to a commercial passenger jet. Some routes have been stopped in their entirety such as the United Airlines service between Mumbai and Newark.

Other airlines have now followed suit

Airlines worldwide have also decided to take the same action and keep aircraft away from Iran and the waters south of the Iranian Border, including the Strait of Hormuz that connects the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman, where 20% of the world’s crude oil passes through. The airlines taking these precautions include British Airways, Emirates, Etihad Airways, KLM, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas and Lufthansa.

Iranian Airspace

Memories of flight MH17 disaster are still fresh

Extra precautions are necessary as anyone in the aviation industry will remember the tragedy that hit the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 running between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur in 2014. The aircraft was flying at 33,000 feet, 1,000 feet above an exclusion zone that had been set at 32,000 feet due to conflict between rebels and the Ukrainian government. The plane was shot down and all 298 passengers and crew lost their lives. Previously, there was less concern for passenger aircraft in such locations as it was thought that weapons would generally not be able to reach the heights needed to attack the jets, but sadly this was found to be untrue and greater safety measures have been observed since this disaster occurred. The system used to destroy the drone, is similar to that used to attack flight MH17, and an error in the system could result in a missile aimed at an unmanned aircraft searching out and destroying another close target. With passenger jets just 45 miles away from the drone as it was hit, this is another major concern.

Minimal disruption to passengers

Most flights are currently still operating as normal, but are taking different routes. This could well see some longer flight times as less direct routes are chosen as alternatives. It will also have a knock-on effect of making these longer routes more costly for the airlines.

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