Saudi Arabia’s state airline Saudia said Sunday it was rerouting flight paths to some Asian destinations in order to avoid Iranian airspace amid heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf.
Some of the world’s leading carriers including British Airways, Qantas and Singapore Airlines on Friday suspended flights over the Strait of Hormuz, as Iran-US tensions flared over the downing of a US drone.
Germany’s Lufthansa and Dutch carrier KLM also said they’d avoid the region.
Saudia said it was a precautionary measure for aviation safety. The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news channel reported the airline’s decision affects flight routes over the Gulf of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz.
Other regional carriers Etihad and Emirates on Friday announced they too have changed their flight paths in the Persian Gulf region.
The Saudia statement Saturday evening follows the US Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to bar US-registered aircraft from operating over parts of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, after Iran shot down a US military drone on Thursday.
The FAA previously warned of a risk in the region, but Friday’s warning threw into stark relief a danger both it and analysts warned was real after the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines flight over Ukraine in 2014. That could further imperil the bottom lines of Gulf long-haul carriers, which already have faced challenges under the Trump administration.
The FAA made a similar warning in May to commercial airliners of the possibility of Iranian anti-aircraft gunners mistaking them for military aircraft, something dismissed by Tehran.
The FAA said its warning would affect the area of the Tehran Flight Information Region, without elaborating. The FAA’s operations center referred questions to its press office, which did not immediately respond to queries from The Associated Press. However, that likely only extends some 12 miles off of the Iranian coast, aviation experts said.
There are “heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the region, which present an inadvertent risk to US civil aviation operations and potential for miscalculation or misidentification,” the FAA said. “The risk to US civil aviation is demonstrated by the Iranian surface-to-air missile shoot-down of a US unmanned aircraft system on 19 June 2019 while it was operating in the vicinity of civil air routes above the Gulf of Oman.”
The Persian Gulf is home to some of the world’s top long-haul carriers, which already have been battered by US President Donald Trump’s travel bans targeting a group of predominantly Muslim countries, as well as an earlier ban on laptops in airplane cabins for Mideast carriers.
OPSGROUP, a company that provides guidance to global airlines, said the Iranian weapons system that shot down the drone was comparable to the Russian Buk system used in 2014 Malaysian Airlines shootdown in Ukraine.