July 29, 2014 / 4:27 PM / 5 years ago

Air France, Virgin among airlines avoiding Iraqi airspace

BERLIN (Reuters) - Major airlines are taking differing stances to flying over Iraq, reflecting the piecemeal approach airlines currently take to flying over conflict zones and ahead of an international meeting of industry representatives to discuss the issue.

Crates of logistics equipment for the upcoming parliamentary election are unloaded from a cargo plane at the international airport in Najaf, south of Baghdad, April 7, 2014. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Airlines have been rethinking flight routes since the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, killing all 298 people on board, earlier this month over a rebel-held area of eastern Ukraine.

Some carriers temporarily suspended flights to Israel amid hostilities between Israel and the militant group Hamas.

Air France-KLM, Britain’s Virgin Atlantic [VA.UL], Germany’s Air Berlin and Poland’s LOT said on Tuesday they were not flying over Iraqi airspace for security reasons, a day after Emirates Airline said it was avoiding the area.

Meanwhile, Lufthansa said it had decided to avoid certain areas of Iraq but was sticking to frequently used flight routes.

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad said it was still flying to and over Iraq, while Qantas is also continuing to fly over the country, according to Australian media.

“There is no evidence that either the capability or the intent exists to target aircraft overflying Iraq, by either side of the current conflict in Iraq,” Etihad said in a statement.

“The nature of the current security environment in Iraq is significantly different than in the Ukraine.”

At present, airlines make decisions on routes based on information from governments and each country’s air traffic control authorities.

The U.N. agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), has invited the heads of the airline industry, airports and the world’s air traffic control networks to a meeting in Montreal on Tuesday to discuss what needs to be changed to ensure that airliners are flying in secure airspace.

“You need to make sure everyone’s got the same amount of information and that it’s shared so that decisions can be made,” London-based independent aviation consultant John Strickland told Reuters.

Airlines rely on governments to provide them with the information from sources they don’t have access to, such as military or secret service information. They will therefore tell the meeting they need improved access to neutral information, an industry source said.

ICAO currently has a limited role and cannot open or close airspace. That decision is up to governments, although European and U.S. bodies such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and EASA can issue advisories, as they temporarily did last week for Israel.

Strickland said that ICAO and air industry body IATA, as neutral, non-political bodies, could be a good way of getting more information to all airlines.

“It does behove the industry to show it can deliver as much consistency as possible,” he added. “Airlines are commercial entities, they’re in business to make a return, but they don’t want to fly at any price.”

Reporting by Victoria Bryan in Berlin, Sarah Young in London, Wiktor Szary in Warsaw, Praveen Menon in Dubai, editing by Louise Heavens

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