The standoff between Washington and Tehran is worsening with the shooting down of a US drone in Iranian airspace and reports that US President Donald Trump ordered military strikes on Iran only to cancel them hours before they were due to start.
Iranian officials said a US drone was shot down in Iran’s territorial waters on Thursday in the Gulf.
The incident has sent jitters through the aviation industry with some airlines and aviation bodies issuing precautionary measures to avoid any risk to civilian aircraft.
On Thursday night, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an order barring US airliners from flying over Iranian airspace in the Gulf.
The region between Iran and the Gulf state is one of the busiest air corridors in the world with several major transport hubs, such as Doha, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi dotting the area.
In its statement, the FAA said “heightened military activities” presented an “inadvertent risk to US civil aviation operations”.
Though not bound by the US restrictions, Australian airline Qantas and British Airways, among others, have also rerouted flights from the region.
Their fears, though precautionary, are not without basis, as civilian aircraft have fallen victim due to regional tensions in the past.
In 1988, the US Navy shot down an Iran Air Airbus A300 enroute to Dubai, killing all 290 people on board.
More recently Russian-backed forces were blamed for the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, killing 298 people.
There is also some recent precedent for the closure of major air corridors in recent memory.
From 2014 onwards, most airlines are either prohibited from or avoid flying over Syria to avert the risk of accidental or deliberate missile strike.
While during the recent stand-off between India and Pakistan, flights were forced to divert due to the risk of conflict.
Aviation analyst Alex Macheras explained that while there wasn’t an immediate threat to safety in the Gulf, airlines were not willing to take any risks.
“Following the tragedy of MH17 airlines tend to not adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach, but instead take immediate action to reduce any risks,” Macheras told TRT World, adding:
“As a result, airlines including British Airways and Emirates are avoiding the skies above Strait of Hormuz.”