SYDNEY: Australian airline Qantas said Tuesday it would continue flying over Iraqi airspace, despite alliance partner Emirates deciding to alter its routes over concerns about jihadist missile attacks following the MH17 crash.
Qantas said while it no longer flew over Syria or Ukraine over fears their airspace could be “unsafe”, “there is no information to suggest that there is risk to commercial aircraft passing over Iraq, particularly at the altitudes we fly”.
“Qantas is one of many airlines that currently flies over parts of Iraq en route to Europe,” the airline’s chief pilot Dick Tobiano said in a statement.
The carrier said its average altitude over the Middle East region was about 38,000 to 41,000 feet, far exceeding the US Federal Aviation Administration’s recommendation of above 20,000 feet.
“Qantas would never compromise its passengers or crew by flying over an area if we thought it was unsafe,” Tobiano added.
“We will continue to monitor the situation closely and make any changes needed to ensure the safety of our passengers.”
The risks of overflying combat zones has taken centre stage following the deaths of 298 people on board the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 after it was apparently shot down by a missile above rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine.
Emirates’ president Tim Clark told London’s The Times newspaper in an interview published Monday his airline would stop flying over Iraq. He also predicted that other carriers would re-route their flights.
“This is a political animal but ... the fact of the matter is MH17 changed everything, and that was very nearly in European airspace,” Clark said.
Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways said in a statement it, like Qantas, would continue to fly over Iraq at this stage, adding that the “nature of the current security environment in Iraq is significantly different than in the Ukraine”.