Emirates Abandons Iraqi Airspace


Emirates Airline is abandoning its flight routes above Iraq. Why fly above Islamic militants? Why risk flying near a war zone in wake of the Malaysian Airlines’ Flight 17 disaster? And just who makes the call regarding commercial airspace over conflict zones anyway?

The Gulf-based airline told the BBC it was taking “precautionary measures” and “working on alternative routing plans for flights using Iraqi airspace.”

Apparently the airline is concerned that ISIS fighters have acquired a prodigious amount of weapons from Syrian stockpiles capable of downing a commercial airliner. That, to Emirates, is as arresting as a siren.

Here’s some hands-on research you can do: go to flightradar24.com and view live air traffic over Europe. (Give the page a minute for flight paths to boot up.) You’ll see today there’s nothing but open air space above much of Ukraine.

Now scroll down to Iraq and you’ll most likely see a thin corridor of air traffic barely touching Syria and then flying north-south along the eastern border of Iraq, maybe not so much a place as a margin for error.

Those are some of the flights Emirates said it is re-routing. But it will take a few days, they warned yesterday.

“We are closely monitoring the situation along with international agencies, and will never compromise the safety of our customers and crew,” Emirates told the BBC.

Emirates share a global partnership with Qantas. There were 37 Australians aboard the Malaysia Airlines plane that was downed with a surface-to-air missile over eastern Ukraine on July 17. Maybe the airline is particularly sensitive. (Qantas says they’ll continue to fly over Iraq.)

Emirates’ president Sir Tim Clark said MH17 “changed everything” since it was “very nearly in European airspace.” Clark thinks other airlines will follow his move.

But in response, British Airways “appeared happy to continue flying over hostile parts of northern Iraq” reported The London Times. They also report most BA flights are over Mosul, an ISIS stronghold in Iraq.

Alternative routes would take aircraft across Saudi Arabia and the Red Sea and over Cairo, adding up to 45 minutes. Flying over Iran also is an alternative.

“We have to take the bull by the horns,” Clark told The Times.

But the Emirates’ president told The Times greater intelligence from governments about the safety of airspace would be welcome.

Regarding his go-it-alone action, Clark told the media: “That is the kind of thing that will demonstrate to the public that we take this extremely seriously and that is exactly what we are doing.”

The Tarmac’s View: Airlines determine flight paths based on advice from local governments (mostly weather information), home government and industry regulators. Airlines want governments to take the lead. Commercial aviation doesn’t fly through uncharted territory. It seeks a comfort zone.

Officials from the International Civil Aviation Organization as well as the International Air Transport Association and other agencies, meet next week in Montreal in response to calls for action to prevent another MH17.

But the ICAO has a limited role in dictating operations. U.S. officials have already warned that they expect few changes in the way global aviation is organized.


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