Emirates has clarified that its pilots had to descend into the prohibited area due to orders from Air Traffic Control (ATC). Picture used for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Dubai: Dubai’s flagship carrier, Emirates, has reached a settlement with the US Department of Transportation after being fined $1.5 million for operating flights carrying JetBlue Airways’ designator code in prohibited Iraqi airspace.

An Emirates spokesperson said in a statement, “Emirates has reached a settlement with the US Department of Transport (DOT), relating to the alleged breach of Special Federal Aviation Regulations (SFAR) that restricted airlines carrying a US air-carrier code from operating below 32,000 ft while over Iraqi airspace.”

The incidents involved 122 flights operated by Emirates between December 2021 and August 2022, each carrying a JetBlue marketing code.

The US Department of Transportation alleged that Emirates operated these flights between the UAE and the United States in airspace prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to US operators.

The Emirates spokesperson clarified in a statement the airline had intended to operate the flights at or above the restricted level but that in flight, air traffic control did not give clearance to ascend or had instructed flights to operate below the level.

“Emirates wishes to state that we had planned to operate these 122 flights in question at or above the restricted flight level (32,000 ft), but our pilots had to descend into the prohibited area due to orders from Air Traffic Control (ATC),” the spokesperson explained.

“Our pilots duly followed ATC instructions, a decision which is fully aligned with international aviation regulations for safety reasons. Emirates’ priority is always the safety of our passengers and employees,” the airline said.

According to a Reuters report, the DoT said the conduct violated a consent order issued in October 2020, which fined Emirates for operating other flights in airspace under an FAA prohibition.

The Emirates spokesperson also said that the airline no longer operated flights with US carrier codes over Iraqi airspace.

Emirates told USDOT it prioritizes the safety of passengers, employees, and other airspace users. It added that the flights in question only operated below the allowed level "as a result of direct instructions from the relevant air traffic controllers" and, in some cases, to avoid a collision.

Emirates argued the pilots "were legally obliged to follow the instructions of the relevant air traffic controllers and any failure to comply with such instructions would have had significant safety implications," the department told Reuters.