FAA loosens restrictions on flights over Persian Gulf

Kalitta Air 747 freighter being loaded

The Federal Aviation Administration has loosened recently imposed restrictions on U.S. aircraft flying over the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman in order to allow flights into and out of certain airports in the region.

The FAA’s action came shortly after several U.S.-based cargo airlines requested exemptions from the restrictions, which were imposed Jan. 8 after Iran launched a missile attack on U.S. assets in Iraq in retaliation for the U.S. killing Iran’s top military commander.

The agency’s latest Notice to Airmen allows flights to and from airports in Doha, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Muscat as long as operators are on a published instrument procedure or under the direction of air traffic control and minimize overwater flight to the greatest extent possible. Flights are still prohibited from entering the Tehran Flight Information Region, which covers the airspace over Iran and extends from southern Iran part way into the airspace over the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

The new notice, which supersedes one released Jan. 8, was issued shortly after FedEx, Polar Air Cargo, Omni Air International, Kalitta Air, Southern Air and Atlas Air all petitioned the FAA for exemptions from the original restrictions so they could continue flying into the region.

Omni Air said it requested the exemption so it could operate flights on behalf of the Department of Defense to air bases in the region through the end of the month. Kalitta Air said it needed to continue flights in the region on behalf of DHL and as part of U.S. military mail operations. Polar Air, Atlas and Southern Air all said they wanted to continue operating to Bahrain and/or Qatar airports.

FedEx’s request for an exemption did not specify any specific airport. The company said the information in support of its request was sensitive and proprietary and should be protected from public disclosure.

Late Wednesday, FAA issued another new NOTAM adding several airports in the United Arab Emirates that can be served as long as the operational restrictions are met.

FAA issued the NOTAMs because of heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the Middle East that “present an inadvertent risk to U.S. civil aviation operations due to the potential for miscalculation or misidentification.”

In the hours after the Iranian missile attack, Iran’s military mistakenly shot down a Ukranian International Airlines Boeing 737-800 shortly after the airliner had taken off from Tehran on a flight to Kiev. All 176 passengers and crew were killed.