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

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Summary

  • Emirates fined $1.8 million for not following US aviation rules on flights over Iraq during a partnership with JetBlue.
  • FAA safety protocols don’t allow US airlines to fly over Iraq under 32,000 feet.
  • The issue highlights the complexity of global airspace restrictions.

Middle East carrier Emirates has been fined $1.8 million by US authorities for violating an airspace rule over Iraq when it had an active codeshare partnership with JetBlue. The issue relates to flights between Dubai and the US for nine months from 2021 to 2022.

Emirates fined $1.8 million

The US Department of Transportation has said that Emirates has been given a fine of $1.8 million for not following the country’s protocols of staying above a certain limit in altitude while flying over Iraq for flights to the US.

The fine applies to flights operated between December 2021 and August 2022 that flew over Iraq on their way to the United States. For safety reasons, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doesn’t allow US airlines to fly over Iraq under 32,000 feet.

Photo: Soos Jozsef | Shutterstock

Emirates was found in violation of this rule for many flights, but despite not being a US carrier, it is being fined by US authorities. This is because, at the time of the violation, it had a codeshare partnership with JetBlue, allowing it to sell seats on Emirates planes.

According to the Associated Press, Emirates planned these flights to remain above 32,000 feet but only lowered them when asked by air traffic control. The carrier was also fined $400,000 in 2020 for similar flights and said it wouldn’t violate the rules again.

AP also reports that the consent order states that $300,000 of the fine would be dropped if Emirates adheres to US restrictions over Iraq for a year. An Emirates spokesperson issued the following statement to Simple Flying:

“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.”

From JetBlue to United

Emirates and JetBlue first joined forces in 2012 and their partnership developed over the years, with both airlines reciprocating perks, including Emirates adding JetBlue Mint redemptions to the scheme in 2021.

But a year later, Emirates ended the partnership with JetBlue, although it wasn’t long before the Dubai-based carrier joined hands with another major US carrier – United Airlines.

united-emirates-invite-plane-tail-final-2-rs-v2-70

Photo: Emirates

The two airlines announced a partnership in 2023, allowing Emirates customers to have access to a more comprehensive selection of US destinations. The day the partnership began, Emirates customers could make further connections in the United States from important business hubs in Chicago, Houston, or San Francisco. Recently, Emirates President Sir Tim Clark reflected on this partnership and said,

“…United Airlines has been a great help not only for us but also for US customers benefiting from our network of destinations out of Dubai… Hopefully, we will see more plans for concrete new US routes in the near future.”

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The Emirati flag carrier recently expanded its reach in North America following a strategic agreement with United Airlines.

Airspace restrictions

After the latest fine, Emirates is unlikely to violate Iraq airspace rules for its US flights, but given the geopolitical situation worldwide, such airspace restrictions in certain parts of the world are likely to stay.

Earlier this year, several airlines had to reroute or cancel flights due to airspace closure over Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq following tension in the region between Iran and Israel.

Emirates 615-seat A380 shutterstock_1159666531

Photo: Sudpoth Sirirattanasakul | Shutterstock

EVA Air is unable to fly over much of mainland China due to historical tensions between China and Taiwan, while many carriers in the West do not fly over Russia following its conflict with Ukraine.

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The Airspace Complications Surrounding EVA Air’s European Routes

The carrier is unable to take the most direct route as it is unable to fly over mainland China.

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