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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

US fines Virgin Atlantic $1m for flights over Iraq

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The US Transportation Department has fined British airline Virgin Atlantic up to $1.05 million (€970,000) for flying over restricted airspace in Iraq while operating flights in a partnership with Delta Air Lines.

The federal agency said the flights occurred between September 2020 and September 2021 while the Federal Aviation Administration had told US airlines to avoid the area.

Atlanta-based Delta owns 49 per cent of Virgin Atlantic. The airlines have a so-called code-sharing agreement in which Delta put its own “code” on some Virgin Atlantic flights and sold seats as if they were Delta airplanes.

The department said that arrangement brought the UK carrier under FAA restrictions covering US airlines when a “significant number” of its flights between the United Kingdom and India passed over Iraq.

From March 2020 until October 2021, the FAA barred US airlines from flying over Iraq at any altitude because of “heightened militia activities and increased tensions in Iraq”. The FAA still bars civilian planes below 32,000 feet.

In a consent agreement posted on Tuesday, Virgin Atlantic said the overflights were inadvertent. The airline said it followed FAA restrictions on code-sharing flights in the past and the violations were caused by disruptions and staff shortages brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. The airline said it immediately rerouted flights after learning of the violations.

Half of the fine, or $525,000, will be waived if Virgin Atlantic avoids similar violations for one year.

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