The US Fines Emirates $1.8 Million For Flying Below 32,000 Feet Over Iraq

By Ivan PetrenkoJun 15, 2024 15:30 PMNews
white emirates plane
white emirates plane. Source: unsplash

Middle East carrier Emirates has been fined $1.8 million by US authorities for violating airspace regulations over Iraq. The violations occurred during a period when Emirates had an active codeshare partnership with JetBlue. The issue pertains to flights between Dubai and the US from December 2021 to August 2022.

Emirates Fined $1.8 Million

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) fined Emirates for not adhering to the FAA's requirement that prohibits US airlines and their codeshare partners from flying below 32,000 feet over Iraqi airspace. This regulation is in place for safety reasons due to the volatile nature of the region.

The violations involved numerous flights over Iraq during the specified period, with Emirates operating under a codeshare agreement with JetBlue. Despite Emirates not being a US carrier, the fine applies because the partnership allowed JetBlue to sell seats on Emirates flights.

Background and FAA Regulations

The FAA mandates that airlines avoid flying below 32,000 feet over Iraq to mitigate potential risks associated with the region’s airspace. Emirates, found in breach of this rule, reportedly planned their flights to stay above this altitude but were instructed to descend by air traffic control (ATC) on several occasions.

Emirates' Response

Emirates acknowledged the settlement with the DOT and reiterated its commitment to passenger and employee safety. The airline highlighted that their pilots followed ATC instructions, which sometimes required flying below 32,000 feet for safety reasons.

An Emirates spokesperson commented:

"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 FL320 while over Iraqi airspace. These incidents involved 122 flights operated by Emirates, while carrying a JetBlue marketing code, between December 2021 and August 2022.

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.

Emirates wishes to state that we had planned to operate these 122 flights in question at or above FL320. However, while these flights were operating, Air Traffic Control (ATC) did not give clearance to ascend to FL320, or had categorically instructed these flights to operate below FL320."

JetBlue to United Partnership

Emirates' codeshare partnership with JetBlue began in 2012, providing mutual benefits such as shared perks and reward redemptions. However, in 2022, Emirates ended this partnership and soon after, announced a new collaboration with United Airlines.

The Emirates-United partnership, launched in 2023, aims to offer passengers an expanded network of destinations across the US. Emirates customers can now make seamless connections through major US hubs like Chicago, Houston, and San Francisco.

Airspace Restrictions and Geopolitical Tensions

The fine against Emirates underscores the ongoing complexities of airspace regulations in geopolitically sensitive regions. With heightened global tensions, such restrictions are expected to persist. Airlines frequently have to adjust their routes to avoid restricted airspace, as seen with recent reroutings over Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq, and the avoidance of Russian airspace due to the conflict in Ukraine.

Emirates, already under scrutiny, will likely ensure strict compliance with airspace regulations moving forward to avoid further penalties.

In Conclusion

The $1.8 million fine imposed on Emirates for violating airspace rules over Iraq highlights the importance of adhering to FAA regulations, even for non-US carriers operating under codeshare agreements. As geopolitical tensions continue to influence airspace restrictions, airlines must remain vigilant to ensure passenger safety and regulatory compliance.

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