The aviation regulator on Wednesday asked Indian airlines to take all precautions in the airspace over Iran, Iraq, Gulf of Oman and waters of the Persian Gulf, and reroute their flights to ensure safety of passengers.
The decision comes after Iran fired missiles at two US air bases in Iraq, leading to heightened tensions in the region.
Air India said its flights to Europe and the United States (US) could take 20-40 minutes longer. The national carrier flies to sixteen destinations in Canada, Europe and the US. Route selection depends on various factors, and during winter Air India’s west-bound flights use the Iranian routes to avoid long spells of headwinds over northern latitudes.
But with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation on Wednesday issuing an advisory for Indian carriers to avoid Iranian and Iraqi airspace, Air India’s US- and Europe-bound flights will take routes via Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.
The external affairs ministry too has asked Indian citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Iraq.
“We have held meetings with the airlines concerned. We have sensitised them to remain vigilant and take all precautions including avoidance,” said Arun Kumar, director general of civil aviation.
Air India spokesperson Dhananjay Kumar said: “The safety of our passengers and crew members comes first. In light of the tensions within the Iranian airspace a decision to temporarily reroute flights of Air India and Air India Express overflying Iran has been taken.”
“This may lead to increase in flying time by approximately 20 minutes for flights from Delhi and 30-40 minutes for flights from Mumbai.”
IndiGo said it does not expect any impact as its flights do not fly over Iran and Iraq.
“Currently we have normal operations and expect these to continue as usual. We are monitoring the situation closely,” IndiGo said in a statement.
“The routes to Gulf operate through Oman, Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf, while the routes to Turkey fly over the northern routes over the Caspian sea and head directly from there to Istanbul.”
However, the increase in flying time coupled with the recent hike in aviation turbine fuel costs will push up expenses of the loss-making airline.
Jet fuel price in domestic market is 11 per cent higher on year-on-year basis and a soft demand has limited price hikes to single digits.
On Wednesday, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also told American carriers to stop using airspace over Iran, Iraq and waters of Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.
Major global airlines such as Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa, KLM and Singapore Airlines too have decided to avoid Iranian airspace. US carrier United, which operates non-stop flights from Newark and San Francisco to Mumbai and Delhi, said the FAA restrictions did not impact the airline.
“United does not utilise the airspace in question and therefore the current FAA notice to airmen does not affect United,” it said in a statement.