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Iran tensions

Singapore Airlines avoids Iran airspace as regional tension rises

Flights between SE Asia and Europe face disruption as country lies along route

Singapore Airlines has regular flights to more than 10 European cities. Other Asian carriers may follow its lead and divert flights away from Iranian airspace.   © Reuters

SINGAPORE -- Some Asian airlines are avoiding Iranian airspace as tensions between Tehran and Washington escalate following the killing of Iran's Gen. Qassem Soleimani by a U.S. drone in Iraq.

Singapore Airlines said Wednesday that it is diverting all flights to and from Europe away from Iranian airspace "in view of the latest developments in the region."

The announcement comes as Iran fired a barrage of missiles at two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops Wednesday morning in retaliation for the killing of Soleimani last Friday.

"We are monitoring the situation closely and will make the appropriate adjustments to our routes if necessary," a Singapore Airlines representative said in a statement.

Singapore's flagship carrier has regular flights to more than 10 European cities, including London, Paris, Frankfurt and Barcelona. It also flies to Istanbul.

Many air routes connecting Southeast Asia and Europe pass over Iran, so other Asian airlines may follow Singapore Airlines' lead in avoiding the area.

Vietnam Airlines told the Nikkei Asian Review on Wednesday that the state-owned carrier will keep flights far from the conflict zone, although it has no routes passing through the airspace of Iran or Iraq.

Indian news agency ANI quoted government sources as saying that airlines have been told to avoid the airspace of Iran, Iraq and the Gulf in the wake of regional tensions.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways said it "confirms that no passenger flights have flown over Iraq or Iran for over a year already," adding, "There will be no Cathay Pacific flights overflying Iran and Iraq until further notice. We proactively review areas of concern to ensure all our flight routings remain safe."

Malaysia Airlines said in a statement that it will avoid Iran's airspace, adding that it does not fly over Iraq for flights to and from London, Jeddah and Medina. Thai Airways International and Philippine Airlines have no plans to divert flights at the moment, since these carriers also have no routes through Iranian or Iraqi airspace.

European airlines that fly to Southeast Asia or India are likely be affected by tensions in the region.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has also barred American carriers from Iraqi, Iranian and some Persian Gulf airspace.

According to the Flightrader24 website, which tracks global air traffic in real time, some flights from Asia, such as Malaysia Airlines' London-Kuala Lumpur flight and Turkish Airlines' Mumbai-Istanbul flight, were operating in airspace above Iran on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, operators of commercial aircraft in the Middle East face difficult choices.

U.S. President Donald Trump earlier threatened to hit back if Iran attacked U.S. interests over the Soleimani killing. Iran, meanwhile, on Wednesday warned of a far broader escalation if the U.S. responds to its latest missile strike

For airlines, diverting flights from normal routes could mean longer flight times and higher fuel costs. Cancellations, if they happen, will affect global companies based in Asia.

Asia's big airlines, including Singapore Airlines, do not have direct flights to the Iranian capital, Tehran.

According to the website of Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport, most flights to and from the airport are operated by Middle Eastern and European airlines, such as Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways and Lufthansa.

In February last year, flights between Southeast Asia and Europe were severely disrupted after Pakistan closed its airspace following a clash with India. Many airlines that fly over Pakistan between Southeast Asia and Europe canceled flights, rerouted planes or made extra stops for refueling.

Additional reporting by Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat in Bangkok, Kiran Sharma in New Delhi, Nikki Sun in Hong Kong, P Prem Kumar in Kuala Lumpur and Cliff Venson in Manila.

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