FAA Adds Middle East Airspace Restrictions

Filed Under: Misc.

As if airspace in the Middle East weren’t complicated enough already, new restrictions have just made flying through the region even more complicated, given rising tensions with Iran.

FAA issues Middle East flight restrictions

The FAA has issued a notice that has the potential to have some major implications:

The Federal Aviation Administration issued Noticed to Airmen (NOTAMS) tonight outlining flight restrictions that prohibit U.S. civilian aviation operators from operating in the airspace over Iraq, Iran, and the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The FAA will continue closely monitoring events in the Middle East. We continue coordinating with our national security partners and sharing information with U.S. air carriers and foreign civil aviation authorities.

As you can see, the FAA is prohibiting US civilian planes from operating in airspace over Iraq, Iran, and the waters of the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.

What US airline flights does this impact?

These new restrictions don’t necessarily have major implications for US airlines, at least not at the moment.

The only flights that would potentially be impacted are the Delta and United flights to India, but those can fly around the restricted airspaces. Due to winds this time of year, they generally avoid this airspace anyway.

This shouldn’t majorly impact United’s flights to India (for now)

The much bigger implications here

Generally speaking, many other countries follow FAA advisories, since presumably it’s based on some intelligence (though it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what the risks here are).

So we’re seeing airlines from other countries similarly adjust their flights, which in some cases will have significant implications.

For example, as reported by ET, Qantas is obeying this advisory, and this impacts their flight from Perth to London, which is the third longest flight in the world. So, how are they dealing with this?

  • On the Perth to London flight they’ll be blocking 90(!!!) out of 236 seats for the time being, so they can operate the flight nonstop
  • Their plan in the near future is to add a refueling stop for the flight, probably in Asia
  • Eastbound they can still fly nonstop with a full load, thanks to tailwinds

This is causing major issues for Qantas’ Perth to London flight

If this airspace restriction isn’t lifted, obviously it would eliminate the advantage of this otherwise advantageous flight, or at a minimum it would make this flight economically unviable with such a big payload restriction.

Many other airlines will be impacted as well. For example, BA109 was operating from London to Dubai when the NOTAM came out, so the flight diverted to Istanbul to refuel, so that they could continue to Dubai with an acceptable routing.

Of course going forward airlines can plan for the new routings, and add extra fuel at the point of origin.

What about Gulf carriers?

The big question here is what this means for Gulf carriers.

For example, if Qatar Airways stopped using Iranian airspace, they’d more or less have to just shut down all westbound flights from Doha, given all the other airspace restrictions they have due to the blockade.

As of now all the Gulf carriers seem to be operating as usual over Iran. Frankly I’d be surprised if that changes, but I guess we’ll see.

This would cause huge issues for Qatar Airways

Bottom line

It’s anyone’s guess how this situation will unfold, and whether we’re looking at a short term restriction, or whether this could last for months or years. Furthermore, it’s possible that the FAA restriction stays in place, but that foreign airlines change their mind on whether or not they’ll observe it.

While the implications of this FAA NOTAM are limited for US airlines, they’re much bigger for many foreign airlines choosing to observe it.

This could impact the viability of Qantas’ nonstop flights between Europe and Australia, and it has huge implications for airlines flying between Europe and the Middle East.

While I highly doubt they’ll follow the NOTAM, if Qatar Airways did, they might as well just shut down, because they’d have almost nowhere to fly anymore.

I’d say that this morning’s Ukraine International Airlines crash out of Tehran gives me a lot of pause about all of this. While the country immediately claimed the crash was due to a technical fault, at a minimum we have reason to be concerned and skeptical about a statement like that.

  1. Why be skeptical about the cause of the UIA crash in Iran this morning being a result of a massive technical fault of some sort or another?

    The plane was mostly full of Iranian-origin persons leaving Iran or relatives of such persons. Iranians, Canadians, Ukrainians and Swedes were the vast majority of the passengers on this plane.

  2. @ GUWonder — I’m skeptical because we have a government claiming immediately that a crash was a technical fault. I’m not saying it wasn’t, I’m saying I’m skeptical because of the timing, and because of how the country is handling this. If this wasn’t a technical fault, I wouldn’t necessarily assume that whatever happened was supposed to happen. As you point out, many of the passengers were Iranian.

  3. I had so much hope for the world 20 years ago. But we are really little different than the other families of squabbling primates.
    Sorry if you believe in creationism, but the madness and savagery of our close Chimp relatives gives a clue to how other animals would view humans.

  4. Actually, if Qatar Airways was not able to use Iran/Iraq airspace, they could fly between Doha and Kuwait, and thats about it.

    Doha TMA is bounded by Bahrain FIR which in turn has transition to Tehran FIR, Emirates FIR, Kuwait FIR and Jeddah FIR. Qatari aircraft cannot operate to any points in Bahrain FIR other than those in Qatar itself, nor to any points in Emirates or Jeddah FIRs – which means they would have to exit Bahrain FIR to Kuwait FIR.

    Kuwait FIR in turn only leads to Baghdad FIR, Tehran FIR and Jeddah FIR. If they couldn’t operate to any of these points, that would leave DOH-KWI as their only possible route.

  5. The Ukrainian government claimed it was a technical fault — even put up such a notice on at least one of its embassy pages — and then took it down. Maybe someone will claim this was an Iranian cyberattack on the Ukrainian embassies too?

    Heat-seeking projectiles definitely love plane engines, so I am definitely not ruling it out.

    I will note that the UIA plane did manage to turn back in a sort of controlled manner and sort of descend in a sort of controlled manner with at least one engine apparently on fire. So the cockpit crew probably wasn’t silent during the rather controlled turn of the plane while on fire. It’s not like the plane just plummeted to the ground immediately upon a hit by a massive missile.

    Tehran airport and its surroundings are very well recorded areas by the Iranians and by those hostile to Iran. So it will be interesting to see how imagery comes out about this plane showing what was going on before its pieces were found on the ground.

  6. Aniro,

    Sadly, it seems too true that humans have no better conflict manage skills across the board than the worst of our related species in the primate family. And whoever is buddies in one part at one time may turn out to be enemies in a different part at the same or different time. Looking at the bizarre bedfellows in play in various conflict zones of the world makes for some very interesting revelations about how conflicted and complicated people are and how much conflict there really is. Yet despite that, the human species is only where it is because we learned to cooperate and act in communitarian ways and use that to rise above being just a monkey with a bit less hair. But give it to homo sapiens to be its own biggest threat as a species.

  7. Since the Iranians have threatened to attack Dubai with missiles if Trump retaliates, I suspect passengers will be a bit leary of flying Emirates or Etihad if they continue to overfly Iran or the Gulf.

  8. Probably stupid question, but how does one see the “typical” routes for certain flights?
    Specifically I’m looking at EY from JFK to AUH, continuing to MLE.

  9. If you saw the video of the UA aircraft descending in flames, you have to wonder what kind of “mechanical fault” could cause that. Lots of uninformed commenters on media news sites have tried to say “well, it’s a 737”. This is stupid nonsense. For one think, the 737NG is an incredibly reliable aircraft. Secondly, even in the two incidents involving the MAX, none of those planes were engulfed in flames on the way down.

    No, my first inclination is to say that the Iranian ground forces were trigger happy with anti-aircraft fire and hit this aircraft. That would explain everything. But, i am also confident that the mullahs that run Iran will never permit anyone to admit to the error.

    Which is why it would be best for civilian aircraft to avoid this entire area for the time being.

  10. Wow QF is blocking 90 seats?!? Wow! It has 166 economy seats so that’s more than half of economy! That’s also roughly 60% load capacity given the plane can seat 236 pax.

  11. Planes don’t fall out of the sky with no distress call or mayday. It will be known soon that some idiot sitting in a room in Tehran thought it a U.S. military aircraft and shot it down. It departed at 5:15AM just a few hours after Iran attacked. They were expecting immediate retaliation.

  12. If it was a missile attack then ultimately trump is responsible given it is likely not to have happened otherwise

  13. Commercial aircraft do not belong in war zones. Miscalculation of airlines and countries about the seriousness of war on commercial aviation have resulted in aviation disasters before.
    These types of airspace restrictions have happened before and generally do not last for the long term as long as the military conflicts end. For now, the ME3’s business is bound to be impacted by passengers that want to be nowhere near the Middle East.

    Russia is certainly raking in extra overflight fees as Europe-Asia flights take a northerly route across Asia.

  14. This will all be over in no time. It’s distraction for bigger things coming.

    BTW – US carriers fly over these countries daily. CARGO!

  15. I just flew from Islamabad, Pakistan to Atlanta with the ticket booked through Doha, Paris, and Miami. I began these flights on Monday morning (PK time – or Sunday night EST) and thankfully no restrictions came into place yet. Otherwise the first two flights (on Qatar) were though Iran’s airspace. Now I’m just back in the states on my couch recovering from 52 hours of travel watching CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera’s coverage of this ­čśë

  16. Lots of finger blaming at Iranalready in the comments, very conviently misssing out the last passenger plane that was shot down over Iran was in fact targeted by the U.S. military..

  17. Does this mean economy class passengers on the Perth – London flight will get a row each? (or at the very least, empty middle seat)

    This will hurt Qantas.

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