Middle East crisis: Several airlines suspend services, avoid Iranian airspace

This has been the biggest disruption since 9/11. Photo: Shutterstock/Anyaberkut

New Delhi: With the Middle East tensions flaring up, Air India has temporarily suspended its Tel Aviv flights and other national and internationa carriers have charted alternative flight paths to avoid the Iranian airspace. Longer flight paths will result in increased operational costs for the airlines, and the situation could also push airfares higher.

Apart from Air India, Vistara and IndiGo from India have opted for alternative paths for their flights to the West. An official in the know said that IndiGo, which operates flights to Istanbul with aircraft leased from Turkish Airlines, is avoiding the Iranian airspace.

Airlines of the Middle East and Europe
Major Middle East airlines, including Emirates Airlines, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways, said on Sunday they would resume operation in the region after cancelling or rerouting some flights. It was not yet clear if the latest unrest would impact passenger demand, which has remained robust despite ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, said Brendan Sobie, an independent aviation analyst. "If the political situation and the conflicts continue to escalate then at some point people will be concerned about travelling, but so far that hasn't happened," Sobie said.

Saudia, the flag carrier of Saudi Arabia has suspended all its services to the airports in the northern region of the country until further notice. The airline had earlier recalled a flight to Al Qurayyat back to Riyadh. Meanwhile, Jordan has closed its air space indefinitely to all incoming, departing and transit aircraft. This led Kuwait Airways to cancel its flights to Al Qurayyat in Jordan (Al Qurayyat is there both in Saudi Arabia and Jordan). The airline company has temporarily suspended its services to Iraq, Iran, Jordan and Lebanon. Meanwhile, the European aviation agency also urged caution in Israeli and Iranian airspaces though it said no civil overflights had been placed at risk. Dutch airline KLM has cancelled all flights to and from Tel Aviv until Tuesday.

Biggest disruption since 9/11
This was the biggest single disruption to air travel since the attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001, according to Mark Zee, founder of OPSGROUP, which monitors airspace and airports. "Not since then have we had a situation with that many different air spaces closed down in that quick succession, and that creates chaos," Zee told Reuters, adding that disruptions were likely to last a couple more days.

The latest routing problems are a blow to an industry already facing a host of restrictions due to conflicts between Israel and Hamas, and Russia and Ukraine. Iran's airspace is used by airlines travelling between Europe and Asia and those carriers will be restricted to two viable alternative routes, either through Turkey or via Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Zee said. Israel closed its airspace on Saturday, before reopening them on Sunday morning. Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon also resumed flights over their territories.
(Inputs from PTI and Reuters)

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