Airlines avoid Hormuz flights amid US-Iran crisis

US authorities have barred American civilian flights in the strategic Strait of Hormuz where Iran shot down a US military drone. (AFP)
Updated 21 June 2019

Airlines avoid Hormuz flights amid US-Iran crisis

  • The US aviation authorities earlier warned of danger to flights over the area
  • UAE-based Emirates said it’s taken precautionary measures including rerouting all flights away from areas of possible conflict in the Middle East

THE HAGUE: Airlines including British Airways, Qantas and KLM said Friday they were suspending flights over the Strait of Hormuz in line with a ban by US authorities, after Iran shot down a US drone.

UAE-based Emirates airline said it’s taken precautionary measures including rerouting all flights away from areas of possible conflict in the Middle East.

The suspensions came after the Federal Aviation Administration in the United States issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) “prohibiting US-registered aircraft from operating over the Arabian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.”

The NOTAM was in response to “heightened military activities and increased political tensions that might place commercial flights at risk,” an FAA statement said.

While the FAA’s notice applies only to US-registered planes, European companies and Malaysia Airlines followed suit.

“Our safety and security team are constantly liaising with authorities — including the likes of the FAA — around the world as part of their comprehensive risk assessment into every route we operate,” a BA spokeswoman said.

In a statement, Dutch carrier KLM said: “Safety is the top priority for KLM.

“The incident with the drone is reason not to fly over the Strait of Hormuz for the time being. This is a precautionary measure.”

Etihad, the Abu Dhabi-based long-haul carrier, said it had “contingency plans” in place, without elaborating.

“We will decide what further action is required after carefully evaluating the FAA directive to US carriers,” the carrier told The Associated Press.

Iran’s downing of the drone — which Washington insists was above international waters but Iran says was within its airspace — has seen tensions between the two countries spike further after a series of attacks on tanker ships blamed by the US on Tehran.

The Netherlands is still reeling from the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in 2014, which was hit a missile over eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region where pro-Russian separatist rebels are battling Ukraine forces.

All 298 people on board were killed, 196 of them Dutch.

International investigators on Wednesday charged three Russians and a Ukrainian with murder over the shooting down of the plane, which was traveling between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur.

The incident forced airlines on the busy Europe-Asia route to divert flights away from Ukraine airspace.

Responding to the latest tensions over Iran, Malaysia Airlines said it “is closely monitoring the situation and is guided by various assessments including security reports and NOTAMs by respective airspace control authorities.”

Australia’s flag carrier Qantas said it was also taking measures to ensure passenger safety.

“We’re adjusting our flight paths over the Middle East to avoid the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman until further notice,” the company said in a statement.

* with AP


Iraqi protesters shut roads to ports, oil fields

Updated 43 min 4 sec ago

Iraqi protesters shut roads to ports, oil fields

  • Basra saw protesters block access routes to the ports of Khor Al-Zubair and Umm Qasr, as well as Rumailah oil field

BAGHDAD: Anti-government demonstrators in southern Iraq shut roads to two major ports and a key oil field Wednesday, port officials and AFP correspondents said, leading to a brief operational halt.
Correspondent in oil-rich Basra province saw protesters block access routes to the ports of Khor Al-Zubair and Umm Qasr, as well as Rumailah oil field.
Trucks waiting to load up goods from the ports could be seen waiting empty behind crowds of demonstrators.
Khor Al-Zubair is used for some heavy crude exports but also to import fuel products like benzene, while Umm Qasr is the main entry point for food and medicine into Iraq.
“Export and import activities have stopped because trucks cannot enter Khor Al-Zubair or Umm Qasr ports,” one official at Basra’s port authority said.
A second official later said the route to Khor Al-Zubair had been reopened but Umm Qasr remained shut.
Sit-ins have become a go-to tactic for Iraqis demonstrating against their government since early October.
Protesters have shut the road to Umm Qasr several times, causing a delay in offloading operations that on one occasion forced around a dozen ships to unload their cargo in another country.
Road closures have also impacted heavy crude from the Qayyarah field in northern Iraq from reaching Khor Al-Zubair since earlier this month.
The prime minister’s office has warned security forces “will not allow” protesters near key infrastructure, and riot police have forced roads open in deadly crackdowns.
More than 330 people have been killed since rallies erupted on October 1 in Baghdad and across the south.
In the capital’s main protest camp of Tahrir (Liberation) Square, thousands gathered Wednesday to express their ongoing frustration.
Top leaders and political parties have focused their efforts on hiring drives, more welfare and a new electoral law as immediate measures.
Parliament met late Tuesday to discuss a draft voting law that proposes downsizing the house from 329 seats to 251, shrinking districts and distributing votes according to a complex hybrid system.
But the United Nations mission in Iraq (UNAMI) said the draft law needed more work.
“The draft electoral legislation — currently under review by the Council of Representatives — requires improvements to meet public demands,” it said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.
UNAMI chief Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert urged lawmakers to pass legislation that “will reflect the public appetite for a new and different way of conducting politics.”
Protesters have so far been unimpressed by the government’s proposals and large crowds — most of them students — turned out on Wednesday.
“Last night’s session serves their own interests, not those of the people,” said Younes, a 28-year-old protester.
Crowds have spilled over from Tahrir onto three main bridges that lead to the western bank of the Tigris, where key government buildings and embassies are based.
On Tuesday night, they tried to cross two of the bridges to reach the so-called Green Zone but security forces deployed on the bridges fired tear gas to keep them back, a security source told AFP.