The Federal Aviation Administration issued a new Notice to Airmen (Notam) on Friday prohibiting U.S. carriers from operating in the airspace above Iraq because of fighting there between Iraqi security forces and militants associated with the so-called Islamic State. The sweeping prohibition came after the Obama administration began humanitarian air drops to relieve refugees in northern Iraq and warned of air strikes against the advancing militants.
Separately, the Pentagon announced on Friday that two U.S. Navy F/A-18s had dropped 500-pound, laser-guided bombs on a “mobile artillery piece” the Islamic State was operating near the regional capital of Irbil.
The FAA’s latest Notam succeeds the agency’s earlier guidance, which prohibited flights over Iraq at or below 30,000 feet. The notice prohibits “all flight operations in the Baghdad flight information region…until further advised.” The agency said it will reevaluate the Notam by December 31.
The FAA has also recently prohibited flights over Ukraine following the July 17 missile strike of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 and temporarily to Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport due to fighting in Gaza. Its actions drew crticism from some quarters as being late in the first case, and possibly politically motivated in the latter case.
At the Air Line Pilots Association Air Safety Forum in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Claudio Manno, FAA assistant administrator for security and hazardous materials safety, said the agency in the last year has either issued or updated 10 Notams and six special federal aviation regulations (SFARs). In response to each situation, the agency assembles a crisis response working group of subject-matter experts and a crisis response steering group of deputy administrators to craft its response. It also draws from a “41-chapter” internal crisis management handbook.
“This year we’ve witnessed an evolution in threats from non-state actors, which is something a little bit new, as well as the emergence of conflicts involving nation states in what were previously stable areas of the world,” Manno said. “[I]t’s a different dynamic from what we’ve had to deal with in the past.”
As a result of the downing of MH17, the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has also formed a high-level industry task force focused on the risks posed to aviation in conflict zones. That group will meet for the first time on August 14 and produce recommendations in eight weeks, Mitchell Fox, ICAO chief of flight operations, told the safety forum.