Qantas' A380 flies over Iraq en route from Dubai to London. Photo: Craig Abraham
Qantas has no plans to stop flying over Iraqi airspace on its Dubai-London flights, based on its latest security assessments
The news comes despite alliance partner Emirates planning to stop flying over Iraq within the next week to 10 days.
Emirates president Tim Clark said he was “not comfortable” with the security situation in Iraq given so many of its flights passed over territory held by Islamic militants. He said he had issued instructions to reroute his airline’s flights.
“We can’t do it all at once because we have got an awful lot going through it, but yes we will be doing that,” he told London’s The Times.
Qantas and Emirates have an alliance but they maintain separate operations teams and the avoidance of a flight path by one does not mean the other is required to do so.
A Qantas spokesman said the airline regularly reviewed its flight paths and made any adjustments it considered prudent.
“There is no suggestion that flying over Iraq is unsafe for commercial airlines, particularly given the cruising altitude that most, including Qantas, maintain,” he said. “We will continue to monitor the situation, with safety as our top priority.”
Qantas’s two daily A380 flights on the Dubai-London route generally fly over Iraq at an altitude of 38,000 to 41,000 feet.
Other airlines that were flying over Iraq on Monday included British Airways, Lufthansa and Qatar Airways, as well as Emirates, which had yet to change its flight paths, according to FlightRadar24.
The alternative routes planned by Emirates would either take aircraft across Saudi Arabia and the Red Sea over Cairo and into European airspace, in a move that would add around 45 minutes to flight times, or would involve flying over Iran.
“That is the kind of thing that will demonstrate to the public that we take this extremely seriously and that is exactly what we are doing,” Mr Clark said of potential threats to commercial aircraft after Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was downed over eastern Ukraine earlier this month.
Increasing the flight time will require more fuel and staff hours and therefore the carrier will take a financial hit unless it raises airfares to compensate.
“Unless they actively - surreptitiously or overtly - promote the fact, people are not going to pay more for safety,” an aviation analyst said of Emirates. “Especially when Qantas, the perceived ‘benchmark’ for safety is still flying that route.”
Airlines are usually reluctant to actively promote their safety record for fear it could backfire in the event of a crash.
Airlines and their passengers are not the only ones examining flight paths in the wake of MH17.
The Financial Times reported some airline insurers are now pressing for details of exact flight paths and considering the withdrawal of certain types of coverage for flights over hotspots in the Middle East and Africa.
There is no proof to date that fighters in Iraq possess missiles capable of shooting down a civilian aircraft at cruising altitude, but The Times reported the US was urgently investigating whether they had been acquired from stockpiles in neighbouring Syria.
Emirates offers flights to three destinations in Iraq, including Baghdad, Basra and Erbil. Mr Clark did not mention whether his airline would halt those flights and Emirates could not be reached for comment on the issue.
Emirates had flown over eastern Ukraine until MH17 was hit by a surface-to-air missile. Other airlines using that route included Singapore Airlines, Etihad Airways and Lufthansa, although British Airways and Air France were avoiding the region.
Qantas has not flown over eastern Ukraine since it moved its European hub from Singapore to Dubai last year.
However, it stopped flying over Crimea and southern Ukraine in April due to the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Virgin Australia does not fly to Europe from Australia but it does offer codeshares on Etihad and Singapore Airlines flights.
Qantas receives advice from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, which essentially endorses and passes on advice from US and European regulators rather than issuing its own in distant, conflict-ridden areas.
Qantas is actively avoiding Syrian airspace, although Malaysia Airlines last week flew over the war-torn country after it changed its flight path to avoid eastern Ukraine.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation, a United Nations body, is due to hold a high-level meeting in Montreal on Tuesday to discuss the risks to civil aviation arising from conflict zones. Tony Tyler, the chief executive of the International Air Transport Association, will serve as the representative for airlines at the meeting.