The US Federal Aviation Administration has issued a notice banning flights over parts of Iran amid escalating political tensions after the shooting down of a $US130m American drone.
The Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) prohibits US flights in the overwater area of the Tehran Flight Information region above the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman due to heightened military activity and increased political tensions.
The FAA warned this represented an inadvertent risk to US civil aviation operations and the “potential for miscalculation or misidentification”.
“The risk to US civil aviation is demonstrated by the Iranian surface-to-air missile shoot-down of a US unmanned aircraft system on 19 June 2019 while it was operating in the vicinity of civil air routes above the Gulf of Oman,” it said.
Although the prohibition applies to US aircraft, it will be heeded carriers from other nations.
It comes as the world approaches the fifth anniversary of the 2014 destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 by a Russian-made missile over Ukraine with the loss of 298 lives
Opsgroup, which tracks aviation industry risks, said some airlines had already reported suspending operations in Iranian airspace.
“This NOTAM ensures that US operators cannot operate in the area,” it said.
“Although the official applicability is to US aircraft only, since MH17 all countries rely on advice from the US, the UK, France and Germany to highlight airspace risk.”
Iran has been blamed for shooting down the US Navy Northrop Grumman RQ-4A Block 10 Global Hawk and the FAA said flight tracking applications indicated the nearest civil aircraft was just 45 nautical miles away.
Even before the order was issued, United Airlines had suspended flights from Newark Airport and Mumbai after conducting a safety review.
Australian carrier Qantas also said Friday it had adjusted its flight paths over the Middle East to avoid the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman until further notice.
The airline said the changes would mean a slight change tot he routing of QF1/2 and QF9/10 between Australia and London but the impact on flying time would be negligible.
The NOTAM comes as US media are reporting that US President Donald Trump approved military strikes against Iran but pulled back from launching them.
The New York Times said Trump had initially approved attacks on a handful of Iranian targets such as radar and missile batteries.
The paper quoted a senior administration official as saying the operation was underway and its early stages when it was called off.