Airline companies divided over the use of Iraqi airspace

IATA has called on governments to provide airlines with better information of the various threats they may face when flying over conflict zones such as Iraq

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Abu Dhabi-based carrier Etihad Airways has suspended flights to the northern Kurdish-controlled city of Erbil, the carrier announced in a press release on Thursday, citing concerns over the “possibility of a deteriorating security situation” in the region.

The carrier is the latest to firmly state that none of their jets would fly over - or land - in Iraq, as Islamic militants continue to control major parts of the country.

“We can assure you that we do not fly through airspace that is not safe,” the Netherlands-based airline company KLM told Al Arabiya News.

“The reason that we have currently stopped flying over Iraq is because we have decided that flying through Iraqi airspace is not safe enough at this moment,” the company added.

Air France, an ally of KLM since May 2004, also quit flying over parts of Iraq and even ceased operations there.

The decision of the French airline company followed a directive by the French Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC) strictly banning all French airline companies from flying over Iraq.

“Given the security conditions [in Iraq, Syria and Libya], French carriers are requested not to let their jets fly over the airspaces [of these countries],” Eric Heraud, the general director and spokesperson of the DGAC told Al Arabiya News.

“We made a request,” which was issued last week, and that “takes immediate effect until further notice,” he said.

British carrier Virgin Atlantic Airways is also not flying over the conflict zones either but it declined to give details about its new route.

“We can’t give this information. We can’t go into details about our flight plans and timings for security reasons.” Anna M Catchpole, the press officer at Virgin Atlantic Airways said.

Other carriers including Germany’s Air Berlin and Poland's LOT also said they will not use Iraqi airspace, according to Reuters news agency.

No restrictions

Despite the precautions taken by major carriers, others seem to be more confident as they announced they will continue to fly over Iraq despite the threats.

British Airways (BA) said this week that it will continue to fly passenger jets through Iraqi airspace.

“We fly over Iraq because we consider it safe. If we thought Iraq was unsafe we would not fly over Iraq,” Willie Walsh, BA chief executive, said.

Meanwhile, the Middle East's largest airline, Emirates, decided to alter some of their flights to Iraq as flight cancellations to Iraqi cities have an economic impact on the carrier.

“We cancelled all flights to Erbil and had to reduce our flights to Baghdad from daily ones to two or three flights a week,” Asmaa Labib, an Emirates airlines service agent told Al Arabiya News, adding that “the cancellation of the flights are a loss to the company.”

All flights to Basra remained unchanged and flights over Iraq have not been affected by any route changes, Labib said.

Flight routes and cancellations are reviewed frequently by the company and modified according to the political situation in Iraq, the service agent said.

Air industry body

Flight paths have become a concern for passengers as well as insurers and airlines after Malaysian Air Flight MH17 broke up over eastern Ukraine on July 17, killing all 298 passengers and crew. However no air industry body has requested that airlines steer clear from dangerous airspaces.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said it is not responsible for airspace regulation.

“IATA does not regulate airspace or issue its own recommendations about airspace,” Jason Sinclair, the manager, Corporate Communications of IATA told Al Arabiya News, adding that it is the “governments [who] are responsible for airspace and have access to intelligence.”

In a meeting that followed the tragic downing of MH17 over the Ukraine, IATA has called on governments to provide airlines with better information of the various threats they may face when flying over conflict zones such as Iraq to help them during their risk assessments.

Meanwhile the divisions in Iraq seem to have extended to its airspace.