The United States Department of Transportation has fined Emirates for flying through Tehran’s flight information region (FIR). The fine was levied as Emirates was using JetBlue’s designator code on codeshare flights, which would be prohibited from flying through this airspace.
Understandably, the United States bans its air carriers from flying through airspace that it deems dangerous. However, it seems as though it can also prohibit other carriers depending on the circumstances.
This is the case when a foreign air carrier is operating a flight with a United States airline code, for example, during codeshare operations. In June 2019, the DOT fined Lufthansa $25,000 for illegal taxation.
Recently the Dubai-based carrier Emirates has been paying out billions of dollars worth of refunds to passengers as a result of flight cancellations. However, now the airline will need to pay another $400,000. This will not go to passengers. Instead, it is earmarked for the United States Department of Transportation.
The fine is being imposed on Emirates as the airline flew through Iranian airspace at a time when it was deemed unsafe by the US authorities. On June 21st, 2019, the FAA issued NOTAM KICZ A0019/19.
This NOTAM prohibited US carriers from operating in the airspace around Tehran. However, it also affects any flights not operated by a US carrier, but which are carrying the code of a US carrier.
What did Emirates do?
According to the DOT, between July 1st and July 19th, 2019, Emirates operated multiple flights within the Tehran FIR. This was an issue as the flights in question were conducted under a codeshare agreement with JetBlue.
According to the DOT filing, Emirates initially suspended all flights in Iranian airspace, apart from its Tehran service, in response to the US NOTAM.
However, when it did resume flights through the airspace, it inadvertently retained the JetBlue code on such flights. As soon as the airline became aware of this mistake, it removed the codeshare number from flights operating in Iranian airspace.
What does the airline think?
An Emirates spokesperson told Simple Flying,
“We accept the order of the US Department of Transport (DOT) relating to our compliance with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Notice-to-Airmen KICZ A0019/19, dated 21 June 2019 (NOTAM). The NOTAM does not directly apply to Emirates and other foreign air carriers, and applies only on flights where Emirates transported passengers ticketed under a US air carrier’s designator code.
“Emirates has a strong record of compliance with the Department’s rules and regulations. We devote significant resources and focus to maintain and continue to strengthen our robust compliance record. Indeed, as a foreign carrier with a significant amount of service to the United States, we are proud of our compliance record, which is among the best in the industry.”
While Emirates didn’t think it should be fined as the error was a mistake, it agreed to pay the $400,000 to resolve the matter. The fine is worth $400,000, but the airline could get away with only paying half.
Regardless of what happens, $200,000 is due within 120 days. However, the DOT docket notes that the remaining balance will only become due if Emirates doesn’t pay the first half or violates the same rules again.
According to the latest NOTAM issued on the matter (NOTAM KICZ A0016/20), US civil aviation operations remain prohibited in the Tehran FIR until further notice.
While many other countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom have only issued warnings about the airspace, Ukraine has also banned operations in Iranian airspace.
This is in response to the shooting down of one of its Boeing 737 aircraft in January.