Escalating conflict in the Middle East is having significant impacts on commercial aviation.:
- The Gulf blockade has been going on for over two years now — many of us initially thought this would be short-term, but it has no end in sight
- The closure of Pakistani airspace has also impacted many airlines’ operations, including those flying between Europe and Asia
Now we can add another point of tension to the list. Yesterday an unarmed US surveillance drone was shot down by a missile fired from Iran, further increasing tensions between the US and Iran. As President Trump describes it:
Iran made a very big mistake!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 20, 2019
The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) prohibiting U.S.-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 U.S. air carriers and commercial operators.
While there aren’t that many US flights to the region, this is already having an impact. United suspended their Newark to Delhi flight following the Pakistani airspace closure a couple of months ago, and United is now suspending their Newark to Mumbai route following the Iran airspace restriction, meaning United is completely pulling out of India (for now).
Just to put this into context, Iran’s airspace is massive and critical for transiting between many regions. Here’s United’s typical route from Newark to Mumbai, which goes straight through Iranian airspace:
As far as I know, that’s the only US airline that should be impacted by this. American doesn’t fly to India or the Middle East, and Delta only plans to start flights to Mumbai later this year.
While these restrictions only apply to US registered aircraft, often we see global aviation authorities quickly follow one another when it comes to safety protocols. At the same time, this situation is inherently political, so we’ll see what other countries or airlines follow suit.
Looking at Flightradar24, I’m not seeing any other major deviations when it comes to flight plans as of now. That could of course change quickly. Suffice to say the “big three” Gulf carriers have the most at stake here.
If Qatar Airways stopped using Iranian airspace they might as well just shut down, given all the other airspace restrictions they have. However, given that Iran and Qatar have a fairly good relationship, I don’t see that happening.
So for now the major impact is on United’s flight to India, though I imagine this has the potential to change very quickly…