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US issues chilling warning to airlines flying over Gulf

May 20, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned US airlines flying over the Persian Gulf to take care “due to heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the region” so they can avoid the possibility of a terrible error.

As tensions in the region build, the fear is that a plane could be misidentified and shot down by mistake.

The FAA does not have the authority to ground foreign aircraft or prevent foreign airlines from flying in the region. It warns, however, that airspace affected “includes portions of the Gulf and surrounds”.

The situation presents “an increasing inadvertent risk to US civil aviation operations due to the potential for miscalculation or mis-identification”, the FAA advisory said.

The Persian Gulf is a common stopover point between Europe and Australia, and a major air corridor for hundreds of international flights daily from all regions of the world bound for, or passing through, destinations in the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman.

The warning, relayed by US diplomatic posts, is headed KICZ A0015/19-SECURITY. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ADVISORY FOR OVERWATER AIRSPACE ABOVE THE PERSIAN GULF AND GULF OF OMAN.

Nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln

Planes operating in the area “may encounter inadvertent GPS interference and other communications jamming, which could occur with little or no warning,” the advisory warns.

It reflects concerns that US or other troops operating in and around the Persian Gulf could misidentify passenger aircraft as hostile military aircraft.

The Pentagon has deployed an aircraft carrier group led by the nuclear-powered USS Abraham Lincoln, along with B-52 heavy bombers, to the region, to deter what it claims is an imminent threat from Iran. As the USS Abraham Lincoln was used to launch the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, regional tension is running high.

According to US website ThePointsGuy.com, operations at the following airports could be impacted, should airlines heed the FAA’s advisory:

  • Kuwait City (KWI)
  • Dammam (DMM)
  • Bahrain (BAH)
  • Qatar (DOH)
  • Abu Dhabi (AUH)
  • Dubai (DXB)
  • Dubai (DWC)

Air traffic passing over the Persian Gulf region at 6pm AEST last night. FlightRadar24.com

The FAA adds, by way of explanation:

Iran has publicly made threats to U.S. military operations in the Gulf region. In addition, Iran possesses a wide variety of anti-aircraft-capable weapons, including surface-to-air missile systems (SAMs), man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) and fighter aircraft that are capable of conducting aircraft interception operations.

Some of the anti-aircraft-capable weapons have ranges that encompass key international air routes over the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Additionally, Iran recently conducted a military exercise in the region, demonstrating their unmanned aircraft system (UAS) capabilities.

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. There is also the potential for Iran to increase their use of Global Positioning System (GPS) jammers and other communication jamming capabilities, which may affect U.S. civil aviation operating in overwater airspace over the PersianGulf and the Gulf of Oman.The FAA will continue to monitor the risk environment for U.S. civil aviation operating in the region and make adjustments, as necessary, to safeguard U.S. civil aviation.

The FAA warning revives memories of the fate of Iran Air flight IR 655, an Airbus A300 making a scheduled passenger flight across the Persian Gulf from Tehran to Dubai, via Bandar Abbas.

Flight IR 655 was shot down in Iranian airspace on 3 July 1988 by an SM-2MR surface-to-air missile fired from the USS Vincennes, a US Navy guided missile cruiser which apparently mistook the unarmed passenger plane on radar for a hostile fighter jet. The missile hit flight IR 665 and blew the plane to pieces, killing all 290 people aboard, including 66 children.

Written by Peter Needham

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