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Update: Cathay Pacific suspends flights over Iran after missile warning

Wednesday, October 14, 2015 - 13:58
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Hong Kong's flagship carrier Cathay Pacific has suspended flights over Iran and the Caspian Sea after the European Aviation Safety Agency issued a warning about missiles being fired at Syria.

[HONG KONG] Hong Kong's flagship carrier Cathay Pacific has suspended flights over Iran and the Caspian Sea after the European Aviation Safety Agency issued a warning about missiles being fired at Syria.

The EASA stepped in as Russia intensifies its air campaign against Islamic militants in Syria. Last week, Moscow launched a salvo of cruise missiles from its warships in the Caspian.

Cathay said on Wednesday it had suspended flights in response to the dangers.

"In view of the situation in the region, Cathay Pacific suspended all flights over Iran and Caspian Sea since last Thursday until further notice," it said in a statement.

The airline said it had received safety advisories from both the EASA and the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) but added that neither had made specific recommendations to carriers.

Cathay already has a long-term policy not to overfly Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine and Syria, the statement said.

In its safety bulletin released last week, EASA said "missiles en-route to Syria crossed airspace in Iran and Iraq below flight routes used by commercial transport aeroplanes".

The missiles had been launched from the Caspian Sea, it said, adding that the advisory was to "create awareness" for airspace users.

In response to queries from BT, Singapore Airlines (SIA) said it had earlier re-routed some flights to and from Europe to avoid the affected Caspian Sea area. 

"We have since resumed normal routings," an SIA spokesman said, adding that decisions on the use of airspace are made based on numerous factors, such as weather, safety and security conditions, advisories from international and regional bodies, information from external independent security consultants and restrictions that may be imposed by the national authorities responsible for the airspace. 

"The safety of our customers and crew is our number one priority and we continuously review the areas that we overfly. Singapore Airlines only chooses routes that have been cleared for use by the authorities. It should also be noted that there are several parts of the world that we proactively avoid flying through, even though they may have air routes that are available for use. This has long been our practice, and is the result of our continuous safety assessments."   

Australian carrier Qantas said on Wednesday that it had chosen not to suspend flights over the area.

"The Europeans said that those issues were there, but didn't make any recommendations or changes to what airlines do," said chief executive Alan Joyce.

"If there was a problem, and if does turn into being a problem, Qantas will not be flying aircraft through that airspace. But the information that we have is it is safe to do so." Qantas flies over Iran on its Dubai to London leg.

Russia said on Tuesday its air force had hit 86 "terrorist" targets in Syria in the past 24 hours - the highest one-day tally since it launched its bombing campaign on September 30.

Washington and its allies - engaged in their own air war against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq - accuse Moscow of targeting moderate Western-backed rebels and seeking to prop up President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime Russian ally.

The air safety fears come as investigators Tuesday issued their final report into the fate of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, concluding it was shot down by a Russian-made BUK missile fired from war-torn eastern Ukraine.

The Boeing 777 was downed last year, killing all 298 people on board.

AFP

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