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United Airlines suspends Newark-Mumbai flights over Iran airspace concerns

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United Airlines said it had suspended flights from New Jersey's Newark airport to the Indian financial capital of Mumbai following a safety review after Iran shot down a high-altitude US surveillance drone.

[SINGAPORE] United Airlines said it had suspended flights from New Jersey's Newark airport to the Indian financial capital of Mumbai following a safety review after Iran shot down a high-altitude US surveillance drone.

The downing of the unarmed Global Hawk aircraft, which can fly at up to 18,300m, was the latest of a series of incidents in the Gulf region, a critical artery for global oil supplies, that included explosive strikes on six oil tankers.

"Given current events in Iran, we have conducted a thorough safety and security review of our India service through Iranian airspace and decided to suspend our service," United said on its website, but did not say how long the suspension would last.

Flight tracking data showed commercial aircraft were flying very close to the unpiloted Global Hawk at the time it was shot down, said OPSGROUP, which provides safety guidance to air operators.

"The threat of a civil aircraft shootdown in southern Iran is real," it advised operators on Thursday. "Avoiding the Strait of Hormuz area is recommended – misidentification of aircraft is possible."

Last month, US regulator the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) advised airlines to exercise caution in flying over Iran and nearby areas, due to heightened military activities and increased political tension.

"Although Iran likely has no intention to target civil aircraft, the presence of multiple long-range, advanced anti-aircraft capable weapons in a tense environment poses a possible risk of miscalculation or misidentification, especially during periods of heightened political tension and rhetoric," it said.

The regulator did not immediately respond to a request for comment on United's decision.

On Thursday, two other carriers, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, said they did not fly over Iran.

In July 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down by a missile over Ukraine, killing all 298 on board, prompting carriers to take more steps to uncover threats to their planes.

REUTERS