Gulf airlines, including Qatar Airways and Emirates, continue to fly in Iraqi and Iranian airspace and to cities in both countries after a recent military standoff between Iran and the US which led to the downing of a Ukrainian airliner near Tehran.
In the latest flare-up, a US drone strike assassinated top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, in Iraq on January 3 and Iran fired missiles at US bases in Iraq on January 8 in retaliation.
Shortly after the retaliatory missile strike, a Boeing 737-800 operated by Ukraine International Airlines was accidentally shot down after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport, killing all 176 people on board.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic said on January 11 that the plane had flown close to a sensitive military site and been brought down due to human error "at a time of crisis caused by US adventurism."
Following the incident, some international carriers, including Lufthansa, Air France, Singapore Airlines and Qantas, rerouted flights to avoid Iraq and Iran.
“Iranian airspace is important for all carriers in this region,” said Adil al-Ghaith, Emirates’ senior vice president for commercial operations in the Persian Gulf, the Middle East and Iran.
Dubai-based Emirates and sister carrier flydubai together serve 10 cities in Iran and Iraq, and have continued to use the airspace of both countries.
Kuwait Airways and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways have also continued using Iranian and Iraqi airspace.
“We will continue to fly to Iran because Iran is an important country to us and it is our neighbor and we want to serve the people of Iran,” Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar al-Baker said on the sidelines of a Kuwait aviation conference.
The United Arab Emirates General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) told its carriers — Emirates, Etihad, flydubai and Air Arabia — this month to “evaluate flight path risks that may affect aviation operations” although it said it was up to the airlines to make the final decision on the routes they chose.
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