WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Obama administration ordered U.S. airlines not to fly over Iraq following the first U.S. airstrikes there Friday, while carriers from other nations said they were suspending service to the Iraqi city of Irbil because of the hostilities.
A Federal Aviation Administration notice to pilots said the ban was prompted by the “potentially hazardous situation created by fighting between militants” associated with the Islamic State group and “Iraqi security forces and their allies.”
The ban applies to all U.S.-registered planes except those operated by foreign carriers and to FAA-licensed pilots. Flights operated with U.S. government permission and for emergency situations are exempt. The FAA previously allowed limited flights over Iraq to altitudes above 30,000 feet.
Delta Air Lines spokesman Morgan Durrant said the airline stopped flying over Iraq several weeks ago. United Airlines stopped flying over Iraq more than a week ago.
Meanwhile, Turkish Airlines and Germany’s Lufthansa canceled flights to and from the northern Iraqi city of Irbil following the airstrikes. Lufthansa and subsidiary Austrian Airlines said the suspension would continue through Monday, while Turkish Airlines said it has halted Irbil flights until further notice.
Turkish Airlines said it stopped the flights for security reasons after U.S. jets dropped bombs on Islamic militants who were towing artillery outside the Kurdish regional capital near U.S. personnel. The airstrikes targeted the extremist Islamic State group, which controls large areas of Syria and Iraq.
Turkish Airlines’ flights to other Iraqi cities were not immediately affected, the company said.
Lufthansa said it already was avoiding Iraqi airspace on flights between Europe, the Middle East and Asia. British Airways also said it was temporarily suspending flights over Iraq “and will keep the situation under review.”
The FAA ban comes just three weeks after a Malaysia Airlines plane with nearly 300 people on board was shot down over eastern Ukraine. No warning had been issued to airlines before the shoot down, and other airlines had been flying over the region. U.S. intelligence and aviation officials said the U.S. had no prior intelligence to indicate separatists intended to target civil aircraft, and the first indication that separatists had an operable SA-11 missile system was on July 17, the day of the crash.