The Asian continent has faced yet another airspace closure/restriction over Iran after the Irani military shot down a US drone over the Persian Gulf on the 21st of June 2019. Following the incident, The FAA issued a NOTAM, declaring the Irani Airspace and the Tehran Region a no-fly zone for all of the United States carriers. Although this order is for US airlines only, other airlines have also taken precautionary measures and have started to avoid the said airspace.

The airline most affected by this restriction is United Airlines, who after the release of the FAA NOTAM have suspended their flights from New York Liberty to Mumbai and Delhi, both of those routes had the aircraft flying over Iran. The flights to both Indian cities have been tentatively closed until September 1st, 2019.

For customers flying from India, the dilemma seemed to behave doubled, since Indian airlines have already been suffering from Pakistan’s airspace closure from February 2019 due to an aerial conflict and tensions on the border. Flights westwards from India have been affected as almost all of them flew over Pakistan towards their final destination and now have to take a southward diversion before turning north. Flights to Afghanistan and Iran were severely disturbed, causing Indian carriers precious time and money.

A wave of fear struck everyone as they thought flights might get major detours, but that has not yet been the case. Flights from India flown by Indian carriers such as Air India have been following the same routes as they have been since February/March 2019. Flights from Delhi to London Heathrow and onwards to Washington are flying almost a completely normal route and are not even “completely” avoiding Pakistan as they cross through the southern part of the Balochistan province into Iran.

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Shown above, Air India flight 103 to Washington and 161 to London are not avoiding Iran and are also using some of the Pakistani Airspace to shorten the route. The other airline on the Delhi-London route, British Airways use a different route. They seem to be completely avoiding Pakistan and Iran by flying over The UAE, Iraq, Turkey and onwards towards London.

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As shown from Flightradar24 data, British Airways is completely avoiding the said two airspaces. The same routes are being followed for the return legs of the journeys.

One question may arise here for travelers that have flights from Europe to the far east, namely Singapore. Again the answer is that it may depend on the airlines which route they think is safe for them. The London Heathrow-Singapore route has been taken as an example here with British Airways and Singapore Airlines.

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As shown above, the earlier British Airways flight only avoids Pakistan and continues over Iran as normal. The same flight a few days later avoids both Iran and Pakistani Airspaces. Singapore Airlines, however, act differently.

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The Singapore Airlines flight from London takes the same route on two different dates both before and after the drone incident, which is most likely due to airline policies and the airline believing that it is safe for them to fly over the airspace without incident.

On a concluding note, although tensions between nations are high in the Persian Gulf, flying over restricted airspaces is completely up to airlines and what they feel is best for them, if you are a picky flyer and do not want to risk it, I suggest taking a look at your flight’s previous routing on How long this problem may last is impossible to predict, but all we can hope is everything stays safe.


Feature image by Julio Cortez/Wall street journal