Tensions between the United States and Iran have led commercial airlines to reroute flights throughout the Middle East.
According to the Associated Press, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has prohibited American pilots and carriers from flying in both Iranian and Iraqi airspace, as well as in select areas of the Persian Gulf.
The fear, the FAA said, is the “potential for miscalculation or mis-identification” of a civilian aircraft being confused for aircrafts engaging in armed conflict, the AP reported. The “heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the Middle East,” the FAA said, “present an inadvertent risk to U.S. civil aviation operations.”
Intensifying the situation: The fatal crash of a Ukrainian passenger jet in Iran on Wednesday, which U.S. officials have theorized was mistakenly shot down by an Iranian missile.
A total of 167 passengers and nine crew members died in the crash, which happened hours after Iran had launched missiles at two military bases in Iraq that house U.S. troops in response to President Donald Trump’s ordered airstrike in Iraq that killed the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Major General Qassem Soleimani.
Iranian officials have said they are investigating the cause of the crash, initially blaming it on mechanical errors. Ukrainian officials agreed, but have since declined to offer a cause while the investigation is still ongoing. A video obtained by the New York Times appeared to show a missile striking an aircraft near the location where the plane lost contact before catching fire and crashing, which would corroborate the U.S. intelligence report that two surface-to-air missiles were launched by Iran before the plane exploded (as reported by CBS News), but Iranian officials have denied the allegation.
Redirecting commercial flights away from that airspace (as is being done now) is not an atypical response during times like these, Dubai-based aviation consultantt Mark Martin told the AP.
“In a war situation, the first casualty is always air transport,” Martin said, using airline bankruptcies during the Persian Gulf and Yugoslav wars as an example.
Martin estimate to the AP that at least 500 commercial flights fly through Iranian and Iraqi airspace daily.
Industry analysts told the AP that the new routes could severely impact airlines, by lengthening flight times by an average of 30 to 90 minutes and affecting upwards of 15,000 passengers per day.
The U.S. isn’t the only nation rerouting planes.
The AP reported similar suspensions were being made by a sea of other airlines, including Air France, Dutch carrier KLM, German airline Lufthansa, Poland’s national carrier PLL LOT, Australian carrier Qantas, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Air India, Buta Airways, and Air Canada (among others).
Even the Russian aviation agency, Rosaviatsia, issued an official recommendation for all Russian airlines to avoid flying over Iran, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman “due to existing risks for the safety of international civil flights,” the AP reported.