Gulf carriers fly over Iraq, Iran after military action deters others

Airlines operating out of the Gulf region have continued to make use of Iraqi and Iranian airspace, despite tensions following a US drone strike at Baghdad Airport, and the downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet in Tehran earlier this month. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 20 January 2020

Gulf carriers fly over Iraq, Iran after military action deters others

  • Airspace is a precious commodity for carriers in the region, with troubled skies forming necessary routes

KUWAIT CITY: Gulf airlines still fly in Iraqi and Iranian airspace and to cities in both countries, even as other international carriers have rerouted planes since the US and Iran traded military strikes.

Executives and analysts said carriers in the Gulf, a major transit stop between European and Asian destinations, have few alternative routes to choose from in an area where much of the airspace is kept clear of civilian aircraft for military use.

In the latest flare up, a US drone strike killed a top general in Iraq on Jan. 3 and Iran fired missiles at US targets in Iraq on Jan. 8. In the tense aftermath, Iran’s air defenses accidentally shot down a Ukrainian airliner.

Gulf carriers have grown into major airlines even as regional tensions in recent decades erupted into conflict. Rerouting flights hurts profits, they say, although they also insist that they take every precaution to keep passengers safe.

“Iranian airspace is important for all carriers in this region,” said Adil Al-Ghaith, Emirates’ senior vice president, commercial operations, Gulf, 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 for other flights.

Kuwait Airways and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways have continued using Iranian and Iraqi airspace.

At the same time, other international carriers have rerouted flights to avoid Iraq and Iran, including Lufthansa, Air France, Singapore Airlines and Qantas.

Some regional carriers have also rerouted changed their routes. Bahrain’s Gulf Air has redirected European flights away from Iraqi airspace and now flies longer, more fuel consuming routes over Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

“We want to take the safest option even if it costs us a little bit more for a period of time. We can live with that,” Gulf Air Deputy Chief Executive Waleed Abdulhameed Al-Alawi told Reuters.

The UAE told  Emirates, Etihad, flydubai and Air Arabia this month to “evaluate flight path risks” although it said it was up to the airlines to make the final decision on the routes they chose.

“Gulf carriers face a big challenge but that doesn’t mean that risks can be taken — even if that inflicts damage on the business model,” independent aviation consultant John Strickland said.

Ukrainian International Airlines flight 752 was shot down in error after taking off from Tehran on Jan. 8, killing all 176 people aboard. Iran said on Saturday it was sending the flight’s black boxes to Ukraine.


Kuwait MPs launch probe into Airbus deal

Updated 19 February 2020

Kuwait MPs launch probe into Airbus deal

  • The decision came after a debate on allegations that Airbus paid kickbacks to secure a deal 6 years ago
  • The parliament also asked the finance ministry to review recent aircraft deals involving state-owned Kuwait Airways

KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait's parliament on Wednesday formed a fact-finding panel to probe alleged kickbacks in a deal between the national carrier and Airbus, which last month paid massive fines to settle bribery scandals.
The parliament's decision came after a special debate on allegations that Airbus paid kickbacks to secure a 25-aircraft deal six years ago.
It also asked the Audit Bureau, the state accounting watchdog, to investigate the deal, which was reportedly worth billions of dollars, although exact figures were never released.
Kuwait Airway Co. in 2014 ordered 15 Airbus 320neo and 10 Airbus 350, with delivery beginning last year and continuing until 2021.
Opposition lawmaker Riyadh al-Adasani told the session that Kuwait was mentioned in a settlement struck by Airbus in a British court on January 31, along with the names of some Kuwaiti officials and citizens.
Under the settlement, Airbus agreed to pay 3.6 billion euros ($3.9 billion) in fines to Britain, France and the United States to settle corruption probes into some of its aircraft sales.
Days after the settlement, Sri Lanka ordered an investigation into a multi-billion dollar aircraft purchase from Airbus after the deal was named in the settlement.
The former chief of Sri Lankan Airlines, Kapila Chandrasena, was arrested on February 6 for allegedly receiving bribes relating to the deal.
Earlier this month, two senior officials of the Malaysia-based AirAsia stepped aside while authorities probe unusual payments at the carrier, as the fallout from the Airbus scandal reverberated across the industry.
Kuwait in recent years also initiated criminal investigations into two large military aircraft deals involving Airbus -- a $9 billion Eurofighter Typhoon warplanes deal and a contract for 30 Caracal military helicopters costing $1.2 billion.