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British Airways to continue flying over Iraq


British Airways flights will continue to fly over Iraq despite concerns over the threat of Islamic militants on the ground, its chief executive has said.

Willie Walsh told the Financial Times: “We fly over Iraq because we consider it safe. If we thought Iraq was unsafe we would not fly over Iraq.”

BA said it would be reviewing its decision on a daily basis.

The airline said flights from the UK to destinations including Dubai and Doha would normally cross Iraqi airspace.

Fresh focus

“Our flight plans vary depending on a number of factors but our highest and first priority is always the safety of our crew and customers,” BA said in a statement.

Mr Walsh told the FT some customers would find it “confusing” that airlines had taken different positions on Iraq.

But he said airlines should be able to carry out their own risk assessments about flying over warzones because they had different operations and aircraft.

There is fresh focus on the routes taken by airlines following the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine last month.

British Airways has been avoiding the airspace over eastern Ukraine for several months.

Analysis: Theo Leggett, Business reporter, BBC News

The loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 has focused attention on the decisions made by carriers when it comes to flying over conflict zones.

Safety is always a top priority. No reputable airline would knowingly put the lives of its passengers in danger.

That said, diverting aircraft around a particular country can take longer and use more fuel, depending on the route taken and the weather conditions. Ultimately, that costs money.

Unless regulators step in, it is up to the airlines themselves to analyse the risks and decide whether a diversion is justified, based on their own information and the advice they receive.

Sometimes, they come to different decisions. However, after MH17 there will be a greater emphasis on caution than ever before.

Sovereign rights

On Thursday, America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) told US airlines to fly above 30,000ft (9.1km) over Iraq.

It had previously told them to fly above 20,000ft (6.1km).

Australian airline Qantas said in a statement on Saturday it had “closely monitored the issue of flight paths over conflict zones, particularly in light of the MH17 tragedy, with safety our first priority”. [eap_ad_1] It said it had “no new information that alters our safety assessment of flying over Iraq, especially given the altitudes we maintain over this region”.

“However, given the various restrictions imposed by different governments in the past 24 hours, including by the United States’ FAA, Qantas has temporarily rerouted its flights within the Middle East to avoid Iraqi airspace.

“The flight path adjustment applies to services between Dubai and London and is not expected to significantly increase flight times on this route.”

On Friday, German airline Lufthansa suspended flights over the country.

Others, including Emirates Air Line, Virgin Atlantic and Air France, began diverting flights earlier this week.

Virgin confirmed in a statement it was “not currently flying” over Iraq, adding “safety and security is our top priority”.

Militants with the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (Isis) group have captured large areas of northern and western Iraq, including the country’s second-largest city, Mosul.

This week, independent aviation consultant John Strickland told BBC Two’s Newsnight there was “a cobweb approach to the management of safe airspace”.

Governments had “sovereign rights to close airspace above their territories”, he added.

“Governments, whether its their own airspace or not, can give advisory guidance to airlines about what to do.

“We have industry bodies, we have airlines with their own intelligence – particularly those larger global airlines who have local staff in a whole host of places around the world.

“But it isn’t a hard and fast rule.”

‘Vital questions’

Australian experts are examining the MH17 the crash site in east Ukraine Jim McAuslan, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa), meanwhile, told Newsnight: “Our concern is that, in the balance of the equation, some airlines might be making decisions based on some financial or commercial consideration – rather than purely flight safety – simply to save six minutes on a flight and six minutes extra fuel burn.”

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