Airlines in large part have responded cautiously to the worsening security situation in Iraq following the killing of Iranian general Qassem Suleimani by U.S. forces on January 3 as he was being driven from Baghdad Airport. As of Monday morning, no other airlines have followed the lead of Gulf Air, Royal Jordanian Airlines, and Flynas, which all canceled services into Iraq soon after the attack.
On January 3, the U.S. State Department told Americans to leave Iraq immediately and a day later UK authorities warned its citizens not to travel to Iraq, except for essential travel to the Kurdistan region of the country. Over the weekend, Qatar Airways and FlyDubai both said that they are monitoring the situation to determine the safety of continuing services to Iraq.
Bahrain’s Gulf Air was first to react to the security crisis, immediately suspending flights to both Baghdad and Najaf. Royal Jordanian canceled flights to Baghdad but has continued to offer service to the Iraqi cities of Basra, Erbil, Najaf, and Sulaymaniyah. Saudi Arabian low-cost carrier Nasjet canceled its services to Baghdad. Around 30 airlines operate flights from Baghdad Airport, some of them on a seasonal basis.
As of Monday morning, neither the International Civil Aviation Organization nor the International Air Transport Association had issued any statement on the situation. Apart from the apparent risks at airports in Iraq, safety concerns about flights over both Iraq and Iran will likely increase if political tensions between Iran and the U.S. intensify.
From November 27, 2017, international airlines started resuming overflights above Iraq as military conflict in several parts of the country subsided. However, on October 26, 2018, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration imposed a ban on flights by U.S. aircraft below FL260 in the Baghdad Flight Information Region, except as required for flights in and out of neighboring Kuwait. In January 2019, the French DGAC civil aviation authority imposed an overflight ban below FL320. On January 2, 2020, its German counterpart introduced restrictions below FL260 in response to recent attacks on U.S. installations in Iraq, including the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
Airlines will monitor oil prices, which could negatively affect their fuel costs in the event of a disruption of Middle East supplies. The price of a barrel of Brent Crude increased from around $66 on December 31, 2019, to above $70 in trading on Monday morning.