The US Department of Transportation said that an investigation by its Consumer Protection Administration found that Virgin Atlantic flew through Iraqi airspace several times between September 16, 2020 and September 16, 2021.
At the same time, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) at that time prohibited American airlines from flying in Iraqi airspace due to fears that commercial airliners could be shot down by surface-to-air missiles.
Although Virgin Atlantic is not a US registered airline and the flights in question were operated under US Delta Air Lines numbers under a code sharing agreement between the two airlines.
Because the planes carried the flight number of a US-registered airline, they had to comply with the same airspace restrictions as US airlines.
Virgin Atlantic says it only became aware of the violation of federal aviation regulations on Sept. 15 2021 and she immediately stopped flying over Iraq on her codeshare flights.
British carrier based in Crawley — a city in West Sussex, South East England — operates several flights into Iraqi airspace, including to Delhi and Mumbai.
“As soon as DOT informed us of the non-compliance issue, our generic code routes were immediately adjusted,” — assured the representative of Virgin Atlantic. “We have once again carefully reviewed and strengthened our systems and processes. The safety of our aircraft, customers and crew has never been compromised in any way and remains our highest priority.
While US aviation authorities were banning flights over Iraq, many other countries have either lifted all restrictions or only banned flights at lower altitudes. Including the UK Department of Transport lifted a complete ban on flights over Iraq, so Virgin Atlantic quietly built routes over its territory in 2020-2021.
In October 2020, DOT fined Emirates$400,000 after the airline was found to have flown over prohibited areas of airspace Iranfor 19 days in July 2019.
At the time, Emirates entered into a codeshare agreement with the American carrier JetBlue.
As of today, the FAA has lifted most of the restrictions on flights in Iraq, but Iranian airspace remains almost completely flight ban. This ban will likely limit the number of codeshare flights between Emirates and its new partner United Airlines due to the fact that the Dubai-based airline makes extensive use of Iranian airspace and has no problems there.
Sharing codes — one of the most common types of business agreements between airlines. It allows an airline to sell “affiliate” flights that they do not actually operate. This, in turn, allows carriers to offer a wider choice of flights as part of a combined ticket.