Commercial airlines are rerouting flights throughout the Middle East to avoid potential danger during heightened tensions between the US and Iran.
Jumbled schedules could affect as many as 15,000 passengers per day, lengthen flight times by an average of 30 to 90 minutes, and severely bruise the bottom line for airlines, industry analysts said.
There is anxiety that the conflict between the longtime foes could intensify following Iranian ballistic missile strikes on Wednesday on two Iraqi bases that house US troops. The attacks were retaliation for the US killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike near Baghdad last week.
“In a war situation, the first casualty is always air transport,” said Dubai, United Arab Emirates-based aviation consult Mark Martin, citing airline bankruptcies during the Persian Gulf war.
At least 500 commercial flights travel through Iranian and Iraqi airspace daily, Martin said.
A Ukrainian passenger jet on Wednesday crashed shortly after taking off from Iran’s capital, killing 167 passengers and nine crew members just hours after Iran’s ballistic missile attack, but Iranian officials said that they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the three-year-old Boeing 737-800 aircraft.
Poland’s national carrier, PLL LOT, on Saturday said that it was changing routes to bypass Iran’s airspace.
A suite of other European carriers followed on Wednesday, and the restrictions are expected to “further depress” air travel between Iran and western Europe, which saw strong growth after the Iran nuclear deal, but a sharp dive when US President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement and reimposed sanctions, the Sydney-based consultancy Center for Aviation said.
On Wednesday, Air France and Dutch carrier KLM both said that they had indefinitely suspended all flights over Iranian and Iraqi airspace.
Deutsche Lufthansa AG and two of its subsidiaries also canceled flights to Iraq.
The Indian Directorate-General of Civil Aviation advised commercial carriers to avoid Iranian, Iraqi and Persian Gulf airspace.
“In light of the tensions within the Iranian airspace a decision to temporarily reroute flights of Air India and Air India Express overflying Iran has been taken,” Air India spokesman Dhananjay Kumar said.
Travel times would increase by as much as 40 minutes for flights in the region, the airline said.
Buta Airways, an Azerbaijani low-cost carrier, said that it was not planning to suspend or reroute daily flights between Baku, the country’s capital, and Tehran.
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