Etihad, Gulf Air re-route Iraq flights
BAGHDAD – Two Gulf-based airlines said Saturday they have re-routed flights over Iraq because of the deteriorating security situation there, even as Turkish Airlines said it has resumed flights to the northern Iraqi city of Irbil. Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways and Bahrain’s Gulf Air announced their decisions after a similar move by Dubai-based Emirates, the Middle East’s largest carrier. On Friday the Obama administration ordered U.S. airlines not to fly over Iraq following U.S. airstrikes launched against the Islamic State extremist group, which has seized much of northern and western Iraq. Etihad said the decision was taken to avoid “conflict airspace,” while Gulf Air said it would re-route flights to Europe using “alternate, more secure flight paths” to avoid northern Iraq.
Etihad canceled its flight to Irbil on Thursday, though it said its flights to Baghdad and the southern city of Basra would continue to operate as normal.
Gulf Air said it is reviewing its Iraq operations on a daily basis but that flights to the country continue as normal for now. It added that it is “working closely with government and air traffic control authorities in Iraq to prepare for all eventualities.” Gulf Air runs three weekly flights to Baghdad and daily flights to Najaf, a key Shiite holy city and pilgrimage center.
Turkish Airlines said Saturday it was changing its flight times to Irbil.
The decisions come three weeks after a Malaysia Airlines plane with nearly 300 people on board was shot down over eastern Ukraine. On Friday the U.S. carried out its first airstrikes in Iraq since troops withdrew at the end of 2011, targeting Islamic State fighters who were advancing on the Kurdish regional capital Irbil. U.S. cargo planes have also begun airlifting aid to civilians stranded in the mountains of northern Iraq after fleeing from the Islamic State group.