Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Emirates to halt flights to northern Iraq

Amid continuing unrest in Iraq, Emirates, the Middle East's largest airline, announced Aug. 5 that it will be halting flights to the northern Iraqi city of Irbil.

The cessation will not be immediate; the carrier said it would suspend flights to the Kurdish regional capital starting Aug. 12 for "operational reasons," adding that the decision to suspend service followed a review of operations "to ensure the best utilization of its aircraft fleet for its overall business objectives."

Passengers with tickets to Irbil for travel on or after Aug. 12 will be rebooked on other airlines. Emirates will continue operations to the capital, Baghdad, in central Iraq and Basra in southeastern Iraq, near the confluence of the Iraqi, Kuwati and Iranian borders.

Although the airline did not specifically link the move to the ongoing unrest in that country, large portions of western Iraq have been overrun by the militant group Islamic State and its allies, and clashes with Kurdish security forces are ongoing. The militants have seized significant amounts of military hardware, causing concerns about the safety of flying through Iraqi airspace, which is a key corridor for flights in and out of Dubai and other major Persian Gulf cities.

The airline’s move is the only the latest action taken to ensure the safety of its passengers, crews, and equipment. Following the downing of a Malaysian Airlines jet over Ukrane in June, Emirates said it was taking precautionary measures and rerouting flights around Iraqi airspace. Other European carriers including Virgin Atlantic, KLM and Air France have also adjusted flight plans as a precaution against possible militant strikes.

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