Airlines are rerouting flight paths to avoid crossing parts of the Middle East amid fears planes could be shot down, as the world braces for the likelihood of war between the United States and Iran.
On Friday (US time), US President Donald Trump said the military had been “cocked and loaded” for a strike against Iran on Thursday night, but that he called it off with 10 minutes to spare over fear of killing innocent Iranians.
It came after an Iranian surface-to-air missile brought down a US Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk, an unmanned aircraft – or drone — with a wingspan larger than a Boeing 737 jetliner.
It was the latest symptom of escalating tensions between the two countries after a string of increasingly serious incidents in the oil-rich Gulf region.
As tensions near boiling point, the Tehran regime is reported to have executed a former defence ministry worker accused of being a US spy, according to state-run TV.
The worker, Jalal Hajizavar, was hanged last week in a prison near Tehran after confessing to a military court that he took cash from the CIA in return for top secret documents.
The state-run IRIB news agency reported a hoard of incriminating evidence, including “espionage equipment”, was found during a search of his home.
The court also sentenced Hajizavar’s wife to 15 years in jail for aiding her husband’s activities, Reuters reports.
Overnight Saturday Mr Trump said he would impose more sanctions on Iran in an effort to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, adding that military action was still a possibility.
“We are putting additional sanctions on Iran,” Mr Trump said. “In some cases we are going slowly, but in other cases we are moving rapidly.”
The president said military action “is always on the table” against Iran.
But he also indicated he was open to reversing the escalation, adding he was willing to quickly reach a deal with Iran that he said would bolster the country’s flagging economy.
“We will call it ‘Let’s make Iran great again’.”
Iran’s semi-official news agency Tasnim reports that the country would respond firmly to any US threat.
Qantas has decided to reroute its jetliners to avoid flying over the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman until further notice.
Other airlines diverting flight paths include Emirates, Flydubai, Etihad, British Airways, Germany’s Lufthansa, Dutch airline KLM, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and Malaysian Airlines.
It follows the US Federal Aviation Administration issuing an “emergency order”, warning of a “potential for miscalculation or misidentification” in the region.
The security measure will mean a change to Qantas flights between Australia and London, however it is understood the impact on flying time will be minimal.
Qantas flights cross the Middle East at around 40,000 feet.
Aviation analyst Neil Hansford said Qantas had a long history of erring on the side of caution when making decisions around passenger safety.
Mr Hansford told The New Daily the airline was known to share information with the US, meaning it could quickly react to any safety threat.
“The Australian-US relationship is very strong when it comes to access to commercial information that is used by Qantas,” he said.
“You can rely on Qantas’ intelligence to make decisions ahead of a lot of other people,.
“Qantas would have someone monitoring (events in Iran) every hour of the day.”
He said a notable example of the company’s strict safety standards was its early decision to avoid flying over Ukraine long before Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down in 2014, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board.
“It’s amazing that Qantas took that decision long before others did,” the aviation analyst said.
“That could have just as easily been Singapore Airlines – it’s just unlucky that it happened to Malaysian Airlines.”
Mr Hansford said most aircraft carry extra fuel to account for last-minute flight path changes.
All American passenger planes were banned from flying over Iranian airspace in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman following the FAA announcement on Friday, impacting 31 flights.
In Australia, it is common practice for airlines to consult the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) before deciding whether or not to fly over a war zone.
#FAA Statement: The FAA has issued a Notice to Airmen (#NOTAM) prohibiting U.S.-registered aircraft from operating over the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman. The NOTAM applies to all U.S. air carriers and commercial operators. pic.twitter.com/Z5eVX6hyOx
— The FAA (@FAANews) June 21, 2019