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US fines Emirates for operating in prohibited airspace

2KEY8G1 Emirates Airline Airbus A380 aircraft landing. Aerial view of Emirates Airlines A380-800 airplane. An Emirates plane coming in to land at LAX; a spokesperson for Emirates said the contraventions were for safety reasons Trevisan Aviation Images/Alamy via Reuters Connect
An Emirates plane coming in to land at LAX; Emirates said the airspace contraventions were for safety reasons
  • JetBlue violated FAA consent code
  • Flights were over Iraq
  • Emirates ‘followed instructions’

Emirates has been fined $1.5 million by the US Transportation Department for operating flights carrying JetBlue Airways’ JBLU.O designator code in prohibited airspace.

The transportation department said that between December 2021 and August 2022, Emirates operated a significant number of flights carrying the JetBlue Airways code between the United Arab Emirates and the United States in airspace prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration to US operators.

The flights also violated a consent order issued in October 2020 fining Emirates for operating other flights in airspace under an FAA prohibition.

Emirates was ordered to pay $200,000 under the 2020 order and another $200,000 if it violated the order within a year.

An Emirates spokesperson said the airline had intended to operate the flights at or above the restricted level but that in flight, air traffic control did not give clearance to ascend or had instructed flights to operate below the level.

“Our pilots duly followed ATC [air traffic control] instructions, a decision which is fully aligned with international aviation regulations for safety reasons,” it said.

JetBlue, whose code share with Emirates ended in 2022, declined to comment.

The transportation department said the flights at issue had traversed the Baghdad Flight Information Region below certain altitudes, which the Federal Aviation Administration has prohibited all US air carriers, all US commercial operators and code shares from operating under without special permission. Emirates could face another $300,000 fine if it violates the rules again within a year.

Emirates said in a statement that the airline no longer operated flights with US carrier codes over Iraqi airspace.

The airline told the US transport department that it prioritised the safety of passengers, employees and other airspace users, and that the flights in question only operated below the allowed level “as a result of direct instructions from the relevant air traffic controllers” and, in some cases, to avoid a collision.

Emirates argued that the pilots “were legally obliged to follow the instructions of the relevant air traffic controllers and any failure to comply with such instructions would have had significant safety implications,” the department said.

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