Qantas to keep flying over Iraq

JAMIE FREED
Last updated 15:31 28/07/2014

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Qantas has no plans to stop flying over Iraqi airspace on its Dubai-London flights, based on its latest security assessments

The news comes despite alliance partner Emirates planning to stop flying over Iraq within the next week to 10 days.

Emirates president Tim Clark said he was "not comfortable" with the security situation in Iraq given many of its flights passed over territory held by Islamic militants.

He said he had issued instructions to reroute his airline's flights.

"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 told London's The Times.

Qantas and Emirates have an alliance but they maintain separate operations teams and the avoidance of a flight path by one does not mean the other is required to do so.

A Qantas spokesman said the airline regularly reviewed its flight paths and made any adjustments it considered prudent.

"There is no suggestion that flying over Iraq is unsafe for commercial airlines, particularly given the cruising altitude that most, including Qantas, maintain," he said. "We will continue to monitor the situation, with safety as our top priority."

It is understood Qantas's two daily A380 flights on the Dubai-London route generally fly over Iraq at an altitude of 38,000 to 41,000 feet.

The alternative routes planned by Emirates would either take aircraft across Saudi Arabia and the Red Sea over Cairo and into European airspace, in a move that would add around 45 minutes to flight times, or would involve flying over Iran.

"That is the kind of thing that will demonstrate to the public that we take this extremely seriously and that is exactly what we are doing," Clark said of potential threats to commercial aircraft after Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was downed over eastern Ukraine earlier this month.

Increasing the flight time requires more fuel and staff hours and therefore the carrier will take a financial hit unless it raises airfares to compensate.

But the Financial Times reported some airline insurers are now pressing for details of exact flight paths and considering the withdrawal of certain types of cover for flights over hotspots in the Middle East and Africa.

There is no proof to date that fighters in Iraq possess missiles capable of shooting down a civilian aircraft at cruising altitude, but The Times reported the US was urgently investigating whether they had been acquired from stockpiles in neighbouring Syria.

Emirates offers flights to three destinations in Iraq, including Baghdad, Basra and Erbil. Mr Clark did not mention whether his airline would halt those flights and comment is being sought from Emirates on the issue.

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Emirates had flown over eastern Ukraine until MH17 was hit by a surface-to-air missile.

Other airlines using that route included Singapore Airlines, Etihad Airways and Lufthansa. British Airways and Air France were avoiding the region.

Qantas has not flown over eastern Ukraine since it moved its European hub from Singapore to Dubai last year.

However, it stopped flying over Crimea and southern Ukraine in April due to the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

Virgin Australia does not fly to Europe from Australia but it does offer codeshares on Etihad and Singapore Airlines flights.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation, a United Nations body, is due to hold a high-level meeting in Montreal on Tuesday to discuss the risks to civil aviation arising from conflict zones.

Tony Tyler, the chief executive of the International Air Transport Association, will serve as the representative for airlines at the meeting.

Malaysia Airlines commercial director Hugh Dunleavy said airlines for too long had been shouldering the responsibility about what constitutes a safe flight path over areas of political turmoil.

"We are not intelligence agencies, but airlines, charged with carrying passengers in comfort between destinations," he said in an opinion piece published in London's Telegraph.

"Against the backdrop of areas with increasingly volatile political situations, such as Ukraine and Gaza, we as an industry must act now to create a system of approval that guarantees safe air passage for all commercial airlines."

Malaysia Airlines last week confirmed it had been flying over Syria.

It noted the airspace was not subject to restrictions on the advice of the Syrian Civil Aviation Authority.

Dunleavy said airlines ultimately needed a single body to be the arbiter of where airlines could and could not fly.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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