Airlines slammed over Iraq airspace mixed messages

The downing of MH17 in Ukraine has highlighted the risks of flying over warzones. Picture: AP
The downing of MH17 in Ukraine has highlighted the risks of flying over warzones. Picture: AP
Share this article
Have your say

AIRLINES have been criticised for confusing passengers amid a widening split between carriers over whether it is safe to fly over war-ravaged Iraq.

Australian airline Qantas yesterday became the latest major carrier to divert flights from Iraqi airspace. But hours earlier British Airways insisted it was safe.

Aviation analysts said such “mixed messages” were unhelpful to travellers who are increasingly anxious following the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine two weeks ago, in which 298 people were killed.

Iraq is facing a security crisis after militants from the extremist group Isis captured large swathes of northern and western Iraq, including its second-largest city, Mosul.

Flying over Iraq has even divided Gulf airlines, with Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways continuing, while Emirates Airline is redirecting flights.

Emirates flies twice a day between Glasgow and Dubai, while Qatar operates five times a week between Edinburgh and Doha. Other airlines avoiding Iraq include KLM, Air France, Virgin Atlantic and Lufthansa.

An Emirates spokeswoman said: “We are taking precautionary measures and working on alternative routing plans.”

However, Emirates is continuing to fly to Baghdad, Basra and the Kurdish city of Irbil, near Islamist-held Mosul.

A Qatar spokesman said: “We are based in the Gulf, and fly to cities in Iraq. We base our flight paths on our own safety assessments, but if airlines are told not to fly over certain areas then we would re-route immediately.”

An Etihad spokesman said: “There is no evidence that either the capability or the intent exists to target aircraft overflying Iraq, by either side of the current conflict in Iraq.”

Earlier, Willie Walsh, chief executive of BA owner International Airlines Group, said: “We fly over Iraq because we consider it safe – if we thought Iraq was unsafe we would not fly over Iraq.”

Saj Ahmad, aviation analyst at StrategicAero Research, said: “These mixed messages do not help passengers already shook up by MH17. Beyond a quickly hashed-together summit, I don’t see any industry-leading initiative that will fundamentally change the way airlines fly around active theatres of war.

“We have to take stock of the MH17 disaster and learn – this sort of occurrence simply must not ever happen again.”

Aviation bodies including the International Air Transport Association agreed last week to review flying over war zones.