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Iran-Israel conflict: Airlines scramble to find safe flight paths


NEW DELHI: The worsening Iran-Israel conflict has triggered pockets of turbulence in air travel, with

Air India

tweaking the timings of a few of its ultra-long-haul flights and temporarily suspending sorties to and from Tel Aviv.
Pilots are reporting a spurt in

GPS signal jamming

and spoofing in the conflict region, prompting route planners to constantly scramble the charts to find safer alternatives.

Airlines have started adding fuelling stops for some nonstops between West and South Asia, including India, because of the longer routes they are forced to take now to avoid Iranian airspace.

Air India’s San Francisco-Mumbai AI 180 was diverted to Dubai on Sunday for refuelling. Since the flight could not fly the usual polar route to avoid Iran, it had to take a longer path.

“Airspaces of not just Israel but also nearby countries like Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon close when attacks are feared to happen. Jordan is a crucial overfly area. Attacks mostly happen at night, and the airspace reopens at daytime,” a source said.
The situation is dynamic. Airspaces often close when a flight is en route, leaving


scurrying to find an alternative in real time.
While Air India’s Tel Aviv flight has been suspended, Iranian airline Mahan Air’s Delhi-Tehran flights are operating. No Indian carrier has flights to Iran. Air India first suspended the Delhi-Tel Aviv flight on Oct7, 2023, after Israel was attacked. Flights resumed on March 3, only to be suspended again.

The Hindukush route, or Papa 500, was started by Air India for its nonstop flights between Delhi—Mumbai and the West, especially North America, when Afghanistan airspace was closed some years ago.
This has proved a boon for the airline, along with the fact that it still overflies Russia. The old Boeing 777s that have an extra oxygen tank are using this route and are not impacted by Iran’s airspace closure. However, the ex-Delta and Etihad B777s taken by the airline don’t have the extra oxygen tank and, therefore, can’t overfly the Hindukush.
Swiss Air’s nonstops between Zurich and Delhi will take a fuelling halt in Vienna.
“Flights to south India are not affected, but those to Delhi and Mumbai will be,” said a senior official of another European airline.
GPS signals are more frequently jammed around places like Iran and Turkey. “We inform ATCs about this en route and ask them to monitor aircraft position on radar. We are using the alternate DME-DME update that uses the plane’s last location to keep track of its location,” a senior pilot said.
US carriers have been avoiding Iranian airspace for a long time now and their truncated nonstops to India are not impacted by the most recent trouble.

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