Germany's Lufthansa extends Iran flight embargo amid rising tensions

Airline cites the 'situation in the Middle East' as the reason for the decision

Lufthansa planes at Frankfurt Airport. The airline has extended the suspension of its flights to Tehran due to the situation in the Middle East. Reuters
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German airline Lufthansa announced on Thursday it had suspended flights to Tehran due to rising tensions in the region.

Lufthansa said it had suspended flights to and from Tehran from April 6 and that the suspension was due to end on Saturday.

“Due to the current situation, Lufthansa is suspending its flights to and from Tehran up to and including Saturday, April 13, after careful evaluation,” the airline said.

“We are constantly monitoring the situation in the Middle East and are in close contact with the authorities. The safety of our guests and crew members is Lufthansa's top priority,” a representative for the company told Reuters.

Lufthansa said it had suspended flights to and from Tehran until probably April 13, extending its suspension by two days, to avoid its crew having to disembark to spend the night in the Iranian capital.

“Last weekend it was decided not to operate a flight to Tehran with a layover for the crew due to the security situation,” a representative said.

“On the route, the crew has to spend the night in Tehran before the return flight to Frankfurt. We want to avoid disembarking for safety reasons.”

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Austrian Airlines, which is owned by Lufthansa and flies from Vienna to Tehran six times a week, said it was still planning to fly on Thursday but was adjusting timings to avoid an overnight layover.

“The Austrian Airlines flight to Tehran scheduled for today will take place, but will depart from Vienna several hours late in order to minimise the time between landing and departure in Tehran,” a representative said.

There was no immediate word from other international airlines that fly to Tehran.

An Arabic-language Iranian report posted on social media suggested the decision was the result of an airspace closure over parts of Iran during weapons testing. However, the post was later taken down.

Air traffic control authorities or militaries often issue warnings to commercial airlines when testing missiles and air defence systems, which often fly at high altitudes and have ranges of dozens, sometimes hundreds of kilometres.

The warnings, known as Notices to Airmen, or Notams, are also sometimes used to alert pilots to other aviation hazards. On Wednesday evening, rumours quickly spread online that Iran’s entire airspace was closed.

“Erroneous reports previously stated Iranian airspace was closed. Flights continue to operate to/from/through Iran. Per NOTAM, Tehran FIR is closed only to VFR traffic (aircraft operating at lower altitudes),” the online flight tracking site Flight Radar confirmed.

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The announcement comes after US President Joe Biden said America’s support for Israel was “ironclad” in the face of threats by Tehran to retaliate after an Israeli air strike on the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus, which killed two Iranian generals and several officers.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Al Khamenei has warned there will be a “powerful response” to the attack, and news sites linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a branch of the military responsible for training proxy militias in the region, have boasted of weapons that can strike Israel.

Iran has a large arsenal of anti-aircraft missiles, and in January 2020, the IRGC shot down a Ukraine International Airlines passenger flight shortly after it took off from Tehran.

The shooting down of the Ukrainian aircraft in 2020 came at a time of heightened tension between Tehran and Washington over the killing of a top IRGC commander in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport.

Later, Tehran said that the shooting down of the Ukrainian aircraft was a “disastrous mistake” by troops who were on high alert.

In retaliation for the killing of Qassem Suleimani, head of an elite overseas unit of the IRGC, Iranian forces fired missiles at military bases in Iraq used by US troops on January 8, 2020.

Iran-backed militias have entered the fray across the region since the Israel-Gaza war began on October 7, when Hamas killed about 1,200 people and took about 240 hostages during an attack on southern Israel.

Israel's retaliatory air and ground campaign has killed more than 33,500 Palestinians in Gaza, the enclave's Health Ministry says.

Updated: April 11, 2024, 6:21 PM