Sept. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Middle Eastern airlines are preparing to re-route flights away from Syria in the event of a U.S. military strike against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Etihad Airways of Abu Dhabi, Kuwait’s Al Jazeera Airways and Bahrain-based Gulf Air are among operators drawing up contingency plans for services overflying Syria or neighboring states should airspace be closed to commercial airliners.
President Barack Obama will seek congressional approval for a strike against Assad following what the U.S. government says was a poison gas attack that killed more than 1,400 people. The move puts off any decision on a possible missile attack until at least Sept. 9, when Congress returns from its summer recess.
“We have drawn up robust flight re-routing contingency plans in the event of any airspace being closed to commercial aircraft,” Etihad Airways said in an e-mail. The third-biggest Gulf carrier ceased daily flights to Syria exactly a year ago.
Al Jazeera Air, which ended flights to Syria in the last quarter of 2012, has plans to deal with “different operational and commercial scenarios” should the situation deteriorate.
“As of today, we have only one flight route that passes over Syrian airspace,” Vice President for Industry Affairs Bader Al Mershed said in response to questions. “This will be voluntarily rerouted should matters escalate, or when our regulators instruct us to.”
Gulf Air said it’s “fully prepared for all potential scenarios,” and that while it doesn’t currently overfly Syria there could be knock-on effects in adjoining states.
“The potential closure of neighboring airspace may require the airline to reroute a number of its flights,” it said. “We are continuing to monitor the situation closely.”
Carriers in the Middle East have had to grapple with logistical challenges following airport and airspace closures on multiple occasions in recent decades after conflicts including two Gulf wars and the unrest of the so-called Arab Spring.
The United Arab Emirates “will take necessary measures in line with U.A.E. foreign policy as well as the regional and international civil aviation bodies,” Laila Ali Hareb Al Muhairi, executive director of strategy and international affairs, at the country’s General Civil Aviation Authority said in an e-mailed response.
A Turkish military jet was shot down in 2012 off the coast of Syria, killing two pilots. Syria says the jet was targeted by anti-aircraft guns while in its territory and that it wasn’t known that it was Turkish until after the incident. Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the jet was shot down without any warning over international waters.
--Editors: Andrew J. Barden, Claudia Maedler