Emirates has begun to route some aircraft away from Iraqi airspace in a bid to allay fears over security as part of plans announced earlier this week by the carrier’s president, Sir Tim Clark.
On Wednesday morning, most of the Dubai-based airline’s flights to UK destinations were routed through southern and western Iran, according to the flightradar24.com website. Other Emirates aircraft were still flying over Iraq.
Presently, Iraq falls under the flight path from Asia to Europe, raising security fears for airline operators of attacks similar to the one on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was shot down earlier this month by a ground-to-air missile in eastern Ukraine.
The flight route between the Gulf and Europe goes directly over Mosul, which is currently held by Islamic State (IS) militants. According to the Times newspaper, US intelligence sources believe that IS may have acquired surface-to-air missiles capable of bringing down civilian aircraft at high altitudes.
In an interview with the Times, Sir Tim said he was “not comfortable” with the situation, and that the change in policy would take up to ten days to implement.
“We can’t do it all at once because we have got an awful lot going through it, but yes we will be doing that,” he said.
"Emirates is taking precautionary measures and is currently working on alternative routing plans for flights using Iraqi airspace," the Gulf airline said in a statement earlier this week.
"We are closely monitoring the situation along with international agencies."
Emirates is believed to be the biggest user of the route through Iraq, although Qatar Airways, Etihad, Turkish Airlines also rely heavily on the air corridor.
Following the Dubai carrier’s lead, Virgin Atlantic, Air France-KLM, Air Berlin and Poland’s LOT have also said they will reroute their aircraft to avoid the area. However, Qantas, British Airways, Etihad and Lufthansa have all said they will continue to fly over Iraq for the time being.
Emirates also suspended all its flights to Kiev and none of its planes fly over Ukrainian airspace.
The Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) plans a meeting of top officials from the airline industry and air traffic controllers to discuss the respective roles of each in airspace over conflict zones.
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