Commercial airlines reroute flights amid U.S.-Iran tensions

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In this Aug. 20, 2015 file photo, two Qantas planes taxi on the runway at Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)
In this Aug. 20, 2015 file photo, two Qantas planes taxi on the runway at Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)

NEW DELHI (AP) — Commercial airlines on Wednesday rerouted flights crossing the Middle East to avoid possible danger amid escalating tensions between the United States and Iran.

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The flight restrictions reflected fears that the conflict between the longtime foes could ratchet up following Iranian ballistic missile strikes Tuesday on two Iraqi bases that house U.S. troops. Those strikes were retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike near Baghdad last week.

Paris-based Air France said it had suspended all flights over Iran and Iraq airspace indefinitely.

Australian carrier Qantas said it was altering its London to Perth, Australia, route to avoid Iran and Iraq airspace until further notice. The longer route meant that Qantas would have to carry fewer passengers and more fuel to remain in the air for an extra 40 to 50 minutes.

Malaysia Airlines said that “due to recent events,” its planes would avoid Iranian airspace.

Singapore Airlines also said that its flights to Europe would be re-routed to avoid Iran.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said it was barring American pilots and carriers from flying in areas of Iraqi, Iranian and some Persian Gulf airspace. The agency warned of the “potential for miscalculation or mis-identification” for civilian aircraft amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Such restrictions are often precautionary in nature to prevent civilian aircraft from being confused for ones engaged in armed conflict. The FAA said the restrictions were being issued due to “heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the Middle East, which present an inadvertent risk to U.S. civil aviation operations.”

Following the FAA, India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation advised Indian commercial carriers to avoid Iranian, Iraqi and Persian Gulf airspace.

German airline Lufthansa said it had canceled its flight from Frankfurt to Tehran on Wednesday and another flight Saturday in Erbil in light of the current situation. Lufthansa subsidiary Austrian Airlines had also canceled service to Erbil.

The Russian aviation agency, Rosaviatsia, also issued an official recommendation for all Russian airlines to avoid flying over Iran, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman “due to existing risks for the safety of international civil flights.”

Russia’s biggest private airline, S7, said it would reroute its twice-a-week flight from the Siberian city of Novosibirsk to Dubai.

Russian carrier Ural Airlines was working up alternative routes for their flights to Bahrain, Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah to avoid flying over Iran’s airspace, the carrier’s spokeswoman said Wednesday.

At least two Kazakh airlines — Air Astana and SCAT — were considering rerouting or canceling their flights over Iran following the crash of a Ukrainian plane that killed 176 people.

The plane had taken off from Imam Khomeini International Airport in the Iranian capital when a fire struck one of its engines, said Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry.

Kazakhstan’s officials said that Air Astana, the country’s flagship carrier, “is currently holding a meeting on whether to reroute or ban” flights. SCAT, one of the largest airlines in Kazakhstan, told Russia’s Interfax news agency that they were also considering rerouting flights.

United Arab Emirates-owned budget airline flydubai said it had canceled a scheduled flight Wednesday from Dubai to Baghdad, but was continuing flights to Basra and Najaf.

Emirates airline flights between Dubai and Baghdad were canceled.

“The safety of our passengers, crew and aircraft is our number one priority and will not be compromised,” Emirates said in a statement.

Qatar Airways, however, said its flights to Iraq were operating normally.

“The safety of our passengers and employees is of the highest importance, and we continue to closely monitor developments in Iraq,” the airline said in a statement.

And Buta Airways, an Azerbaijani low-cost carrier, said Wednesday it was not planning to suspend or reroute daily flights between Baku, the country’s capital, and Tehran.