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Virgin Atlantic fined $1 million for flying over Iraq in “increased tensions”

Virgin Atlantic faces a $1 million fine from the U.S. government for flying through Iraqi airspace when that was prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration because of heightened fears of conflict.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said Virgin Atlantic, a code-share partner of Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, operated “a significant number of flights” that carried the Delta code between the U.K. and India over restricted airspace in Iraq between Sept. 16, 2020 and Sept. 16, 2021.

The airline was ordered to cease and desist from future similar violations.

An investigation by the Department’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection revealed that between September 16, 2020 and September 16, 2021, Virgin Atlantic operated a significant number of flights carrying the Delta Air Lines’ code (DL) over restricted airspace in Iraq while an FAA Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) was in effect.  

By carrying the DL code on flights in airspace in which the FAA prohibits U.S. carriers from flying, Virgin Atlantic operated in violation of federal law. 

Virgin Atlantic states that its prohibited overflights were inadvertent, caused by operational disruptions and loss of personnel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The airline said that the flight paths that violated FAA standards were permissible under foreign government standards.

Virgin Atlantic says it immediately rerouted flights to avoid the restricted airspace and informed its corporate leadership of the issue once it received notification from the U.S. government.

The consent order is available at www.regulations.gov, docket number DOT-OST-2023-0001. 

The FAA notified pilots in March 2020 of a prohibition on flights in the Baghdad area at all altitudes due to “heightened militia activities and increased tensions in Iraq.” The notification came in the form of a Notice to Air Missions, which is also the FAA system that had an outage causing thousands of flight delays last week.

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