In a Notice to Airmen the US government declares that US air carriers (and operators of US-registered airships, except when operated by foreign air carriers) must exercise caution in the region because of risk of:
- accidental military targeting
- GPS interference
- GPS jamming
Iran Air A300 (Current Livery), Copyright: rebius / 123RF Stock Photo
Carriers are not banned from overflying the area, however, which specifically includes portions of the flight information regions of Tehran, Baghdad, Kuwait, Jeddah, Bahrain, Emirates, and Muscat.
While only applicable to the U.S., notice of issuance of the NOTAM was delivered by U.S. diplomats to Kuwait and the UAE. Specifically they relayed the concern that,
Although Iran likely has no intention to target civil aircraft, the presence of multiple long-range, advanced anti-aircraft-capable weapons in a tense environment poses a possible risk of miscalculation or misidentification, especially during periods of heightened political tension and rhetoric
While the US language suggests possible miscalculation by Iran, Iran is taking the notice as a subtle threat that the U.S. would reprise its 1988 shooting down of Iran Air 655, a grave mistake similar to the Soviet downing of KAL 007.
Iran Air 655, an Airbus A300, flew from Tehran to Bandar Abbas on July 3, 1988. From there it operated a short flight to Dubai. The U.S. had issued a NOTAM that aircraft needed to identify themselves to avoid being shot down. However the plane was flying in Iranian airspace, not international airspace, and was above the proscribed altitude in the US NOTAM.
The civilian aircraft had departed Bandar Abbas, which also housed military F14 aircraft (it’s a whole separate story how Iran came to operate US fighter jets).
The USS Vincennes feared they would come under attack. They attempted to contact the Iranian aircraft but not on air traffic control frequencies, and identifying a plane going much faster than the Iran Air flight. They received no response, fired missiles at the plane, and killed all 274 passengers and 16 crew onboard. In 1996 the US agreed to pay Iran $132 million as a settlement though did not acknowledge wrongdoing.
Emirates, Etihad and Qatar all report their operations are unaffected.