New Iran Airspace Restrictions Impacting Airlines

Filed Under: Misc.

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:

Following this event, the US Federal Aviation Administration has issued the following advisory, prohibiting all US registered aircraft from operating over the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman:

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…

  1. UAL 48 (ewr-bom) still shows on time for june 23. I have family scheduled on that flight. I assume its matter of time before United Updates their system. Do you think things can change (positively) in the next day or so?

  2. “Iran made a very big mistake”.. WTF was a US drone doing near Iran?? Trump would already be launching nuclear weapons if there was an Iranian drone in or around US airspace. So hypocritical. Anyway I’m glad this only affects US-flagged airlines.

  3. Thanks for the post Ben! I’m supposed to fly the EWR-BOM flight on UA48 on June 26. Currently, my reservation on the United website is showing the flight as operating. Any suggestions? Should I call United?

  4. @ Dennis +1

    I’m also at a loss why the US would be playing with their drones in that location. They have thousands of empty kilometers around Hawaii where they don’t bother anyone. Yet they fly their toys in one of the busiest straits in the world.
    Anyway it wouldn’t be a first to create or pretend an incident and then go to war. That Bolton guy must have been very excited that he could almost realize his dream.

  5. The United operated their Newark-Mumbai leg before this announcement came in. The flight is suspended, still United’s 77W is parked at Mumbai Airport. Their plan is to operate Mumbai-Honolulu-Newark route as UA2823, which departs from CSIA at 5pm on Saturday, IST.

  6. For all you people asking what a drone was doing near Iran, it was obviously conducting some sort of intelligence information. That should be obvious.

  7. @Dennis It was also shot down in international airspace. Read a newspaper. Of course your knee-jerk reaction is to defend an authoritarian regime.

  8. @Brian L…. yes it is pretty obvious. So what’s the big drama then when Iran is only defending itself? I’m sure the US would justify itself if it shot down an “enemy” aircraft in its vicinity.

    @ron – exactly…

    Anyway, @Ankit, that’s really interesting! But why wouldn’t they route back via ANC? Wouldn’t that be much closer? Or is there some kind of restriction in place?

  9. For everyone asking what the drone was doing just remember, the government knows more than us. I’m sure it’s in everyones best interests.

  10. This is a bunch of theater by the idiots in the Trump administration. We pulled out of the agreement, Iran responds, we in turn pull a bunch of stupid stuff like this and act surprised when it happens. Not to mention absolutely nobody left in the Trump administration has an IQ beyond 20 (so much for Mattis holding back these idiots.)

    The faster this administration gets impeached the better at this point. If they can’t be honest about the number of people in a room they sure as hell don’t belong leading this country. We’re escalating a war (likely gassed by Israel if you follow the Republican rhetoric) we don’t want or need with a country we were starting to cooperate with with people even dumber than the ones who led us into the Iraq war.

  11. Definitely has the potential to cause major disruption if others follow suit I’d have thought. I’m wondering whether it would impact Qantas on their PER-LHR route? Others will have a much better idea than me, but it seems that any deviation to avoid the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf through ‘safe’ airspace, might push the range of the 787-9, or is there an alternative?

  12. Just spoke with United (Platinum). No waivers are being offered right now to switch to other partners like Lufthansa. Apparently flights are only cancelled up to June 23. Rest are operating normally. Yeah, I believe that. 🙂

  13. Shame on the Trump administration for causing all of this. Those people just can’t enough of sending other people’s kids to war.

  14. Trump still believes he’s on a tv programme. He’s an illiterate, uncultured dotard and a danger to world peace

    He sd sort out domestic problems such as the crime rate , gun control lack of universal health care and third rate primary education system

    There is more to the world than the USA

    There I said it, although this is a travel forum …

  15. Is there a reason they can’t enter the region by flying over Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the Indian Ocean to arrive at BOM? Would it add that much in terms of distance? Just curious.

  16. The drone was clearly monitoring shipping traffic through the Straight of Hormuz following a number of attacks on tanker ships. This shipping lane accounts for the transportation of approximately 20% of the world’s oil supply (it used to be higher prior to USA’s ramp-up in oil production).

    One need not be an orange-haired conspiracy theorist game show host turned President to conclude that the Iranians are behind the attacks on the ships because of the increased US sanctions against Iran following the pull-out from the Iran nuclear deal and that the drone was shot down in international airspace because the Iranians didn’t appreciate the recently released photos of Iranian Revolutionary Guard scraping barnacles (ha!) off the side of a tanker ship. Or maybe it’s more plausible that a “little ship” was next to a “big ship” in the “Gulf of Mexico” and a bunch of folks dressed like Revolutionary Guard were just hanging out. This was the line that Majid Takht-Ravanchi, Iran’s UN Ambassador, was peddling during his ridiculously farcical interviews this morning on the news.

  17. @DLPTATL
    I have some trouble trusting photos produced by the US since Colin Powell was forced to ‘present evidence’ to the UN of WMD’s that turned out to be non existing.

  18. @CST, maybe you should read more than one newspaper. The US said it was in international airspace, Iran of course says it was in their airspace. I don’t think either of them are more trustworthy than the other. I’m not going to split hairs here, but the US admits it was about 34km (~21 miles) off the coast of Iran, which to me is too close and will cause a provocation. My point is there is a big uproar from Trump/Warmonger, when in reality we know that if it was the other way around (an Iranian aircraft off the coast of the US “monitoring”), the US would be crying to the UN saying it was attacked. Double standards.

  19. @Ron, fair point…though I’d note that the image Colin Powell showed was a satellite image of a couple mounds of dirt (“proof” of weapons bunker) and a truck (“proof” of a decontamination vehicle). In this case the images are a lot more conclusive in my opinion.

    I’d also ask everyone to consider which scenario makes more sense after looking at the photos sorry no pics of Champagne or Caviar or Amenity Kits :).

    If the US Secret Service were in boats attaching landmines to the side of commercial vessels flagged in other countries off the coast of the US you can bet China, Russia, or another global power with the technical capabilities would be watching. Though we must all agree that this scenario is so far from possibility that it’s hard to even fathom. Not the case when we’re discussing the Iranian regime.

  20. @Dennis, I’m always amazed when people criticize the current state of the US because they don’t like the political party in charge at the time (democrat or republican). The fact that you think that neither the US nor Iran are trustworthy is hilarious and sad. The only reason you are allowed to express your grievances with the current administration without being intimidated, imprisoned, or killed is because the US is a democracy (which elected the current administration). I’d very much like to see you express those same sentiments as a citizen of Iran.

    Additionally, as a world SUPER POWER the US military conducts surveillance and support missions throughout the world. Including areas that have tension with US and those without. In this case the US military has run support missions in the Straight of Hormuz since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s threatened the oil distribution channels in this area. Since 20% of the WORLD’s oil distribution travels through this waterway it is important to the global economy that it remains a safe waterway to traverse. Since the straight is only 21 miles across at its narrowest point you don’t get to decide what’s “too close” when that’s what geography gives you. Luckily you are not in charge of this operation; rather someone in our military who is trained for this mission is. If you think we should not be involved in world affairs then you’re welcome to not use products that depend on oil (which go further than cars and heat). I’m sure China and Russia would be happy to take over the security aspects of the region if you think we should leave. Double standards.

  21. Lucky,

    your Qatar AW mention is interesting: Iran is Qatar’s lifeline since the UAE, Saudi Arabia et alia initiated the blockade.. As tension mounts, restrictions are put on Gulf and Iran overflight rights, just like they should have been in place over Eastern Ukraine at the time of MH 17 downing by the Russians DBA as rebel Ukrainians.

    Saudi Arabia will find itself in an interesting position. I do not talk about the UAE because they are not World Stage political actors, nor about Egypt who probably only joined the blockade because of a bakshish…

    Qatar cannot join any Western measure against Iran, they’d become land- (or water-) locked.
    Saudi Arabia, Iran’s arch enemy, has an easy way to bring Qatar back in line with the rest of the region: Stop the blockade, reopen the land border and return to reciprocal overflights rights. With a major US base on its soil, Qatar would immediately fall back in place.

    As tensions with Iran mount, Qatar is in a very bad spot, neither with one party nor the other. Sort of Switzerland in WW2, not an easy role.

  22. @Dennis @ron
    The drone was over international waters when it was shot down. It never entered Iranian Airspace. I guess I need to dumb this down but basically, shooting something down over International Waters is very illegal.

  23. @Will – The Strait of Hormuz is only 21 miles wide at the narrowest point and for most of its length it’s about 23 miles wides. There is literally no international airspace because the entire right of way is either in Iran, the UAE or Oman. The fact that the US said the drone was in international airspace and not the UAE or Omani zone is pretty much a giveaway that it was not in the right place. The drone may as well have been in the Gulf of Tonkin.

  24. @Frank

    Neither the US nor Iran claim that the Global Hawk was shot down in the narrowest part of the straight. The US claims it was 21 miles off the coast of Iran while Iran claims it was within their 12 mile territorial waters. Either way, they both assert it was in an area that is ~40 miles wide where the straight opens into the Gulf of Oman. There is a NYT article with a useful graphic titled “What We Know About Iran Shooting Down a U.S. Drone.”

  25. C’mon United: just put your entitled employees to work and figure out a fuel stop at SNN.
    Imagine that, no customs when arriving EWR?

  26. I fly regularly between DXB and JFK, often breaking aat either AMM or LHR depending on which AA partner I fly. Since 2014, airspace over Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq has become untenable and a 12:30 hour direct flight is now a 14 hour affair. Losing access to Iranian airspace makes this route even more difficult to fly.

  27. The real fact is that the US wants to create a war….so that it can sell its arms, which accounts for a big part of its gdp.

  28. I was booked on this flight for tonight—found out via email yesterday morning that it was cancelled. UA Cust Service in India was useless—couldn’t book me on the AI flight 191 leaving at 1:00 am to EWR, so I booked it myself and grabbed the last biz class ticket available. Been at BOM all day today—as of 3:00 PM, the UA 777 plane was still sitting idle, parked away from all the other gates—certainly not making any $$ for UA.
    Hoping to convince UA EWR Polaris loung to let me in, even right star alliance Biz/1st are only permitted upon departure only. We’ll see how it goes.

  29. Well….don’t know how it happened, but IA upgraded me to 1st Class from Biz. About 8’hrs ago I asked about upgrading from Biz to 1st…IA agent told me it would be 1200++ euros…I said no thanks…Was walking to the security check 8 hrs later and presented my boarding pass and they said my seat had been changed to #1F! Who knew??!!
    It’s an old seat for sure, but going from the wait list on UA Prem economy to barely making a flight on IA to Biz Class to unexpected upgrade to 1st…..I’ll take it!!!
    Looking forward to the next 15 hrs!!

  30. UA site now reads this: Status: Given current events in Western Asia, we have conducted a thorough safety and security review of our India service through certain airspace and decided to suspend our service between EWR and BOM. We know that this was not part of your plans and because of this unique situation we are offering a full refund. Please visit the our app or to request your refund. Thanks for choosing United!

    Then says the flight is a 737: Aircraft: :
    Boeing 737-800
    Capacity: 166 (16 United First®, 150 United Economy®)
    Cruise speed: 530 mph
    Propulsion: Two General Electric CFM56-7B26 high-bypass ratio turbofan engines, rated at 26,300 pounds thrust each
    Wingspan: 112 feet, 7 inches

  31. Looking forward to watching the action from my ringside seats/room at the overpriced W Oman.

  32. It’s funny how people still think that the Middle East and Central Asia are antiquated and backwards. Has the past 18 years not taught you anything? Give your head a shake.

  33. Oh yes – the USA safeguarding the interests of the world…lol..cough cough. If anyone believes that bullshit, then they must adaorn a MAGA hat. Our government is a cluster****.

    Anyways – this is what the US is best at – creating wars, losing them, and in the process losing thousands of its servicemen and killing innocent civilians. That should be on the emblem of the POTUS.

    God Bless America!

  34. Next Week My two daughters with two little ones aged 1 each and myself are booked to fly with Qatar from NZ to UK !! We are panicking reading that Qatar have no choice but to fly over the danger zone! I presume we wont get any compensation and we dont really know what to do, My eldest daughter is getting married over in the UK and the boys are also flying with Qatar later in July same route? Any advice or Comments would be appreciated.

  35. Gulf of Tonkin, Colin Powell, Gulf of Ormuz…
    Full me once, shame on you. Full me twice, shame on me.

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