Iran crisis: US-registered planes barred over parts of the Middle East amid tensions after drone strike

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The U.S. on Friday barred American-registered aircraft from flying over Iranian-administered airspace in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman over the Revolutionary Guard shooting down a U.S. military surveillance drone, affecting a region crucial to global air travel.

The Federal Aviation Administration warned of a “potential for miscalculation or misidentification” in the region after an Iranian surface-to-air missile on Thursday brought down a U.S. Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk, an unmanned aircraft with a wingspan larger than a Boeing 737 jetliner and costing over $100 million. The U.S. said it made plans for limited strikes on Iran in response, but then called them off.

The FAA previously warned of a risk in the region, but Friday’s warning threw into stark relief a danger both it and analysts warned was real after the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines flight over Ukraine in 2014. That could further imperil the bottom lines of Gulf long-haul carriers, which already have faced challenges under the Trump administration.

“The threat of a civil aircraft shoot-down in southern Iran is real,” warned OPSGROUP, a company that provides guidance to global airlines.

In this image released by the US Air Force, a RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance drone lands on August 16, 2018, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. – The Pentagon confirmed on June 20, 2019, that Iranian forces shot down a US naval surveillance drone but insisted the aircraft was in international air space, not that of Iran. (Photo: TRISTAN D. VIGLIANCO, AFP/Getty Images)

The FAA made a similar warning in May to commercial airliners of the possibility of Iranian anti-aircraft gunners mistaking them for military aircraft, something dismissed by Tehran some 30 years after the U.S. Navy shot down an Iranian passenger jet.

Iran had no immediate reaction to the U.S. announcement.

The FAA said its warning would affect the area of the Tehran Flight Information Region, without elaborating. The FAA’s operations center referred questions to its press office, which did not immediately respond to queries from The Associated Press. However, that likely only extends some 12 miles off of the Iranian coast, aviation experts said.

There are “heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the region, which present an inadvertent risk to U.S. civil aviation operations and potential for miscalculation or misidentification,” the FAA said. “The risk to U.S. civil aviation is demonstrated by the Iranian surface-to-air missile shoot-down of a U.S. unmanned aircraft system on 19 June 2019 while it was operating in the vicinity of civil air routes above the Gulf of Oman.”

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