Danger zone: Europe warns airlines against flying over Iran

Warning issued after reports Iran turned on its anti-aircraft systems, raising fears only months after Iran shot down a Ukrainian airliner killing all aboard.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Europe’s aviation safety agency issued a special notice Thursday warning to airlines of the danger of flying in Iranian airspace, following news reports that Iran had activated its anti-aircraft missile systems.

“Due to the hazardous security situation, and poor coordination between civil aviation and military operations, there is a risk of misidentification of civil aircraft,” the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said.

In January after several days of harsh denials, Iran admitted that its military shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane shortly after it took off from the capital Tehran, killing all 176 people on board.

The EASA announcement came as CNN reported that it received information Iran had activated portions of its air defense systems and put them on “high alert” this week after several mysterious explosions at military and nuclear facilities in the past few weeks. The change in alert status means Iranian surface-to-air missile batteries would be ready to fire at targets perceived to be a threat, CNN reported.

“Due to the presence of various advanced air-defence systems, it is advised to be cautious with the risk associated to civil aviation. The risk to operations is assessed to be HIGH for Flight Levels below 250,” the EASA said, referring to planes flying at less than 7,600 meters (25,000 feet ) altitude.

On January 8, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, a Boeing 737 aircraft with 176 passengers and crew on board, took off for a scheduled flight from Tehran to Kiev. Shortly after takeoff the plane was shot down and all aboard were killed.

Eyewitnesses, including the crew of another passing flight, described seeing the plane engulfed in flames before crashing. The crash caused a massive explosion when the plane hit the ground, likely because the aircraft had been fully loaded with fuel for the flight.

The incident happened shortly after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack against Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops amid a confrontation with Washington over the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard general, Qassem Soleimani, the week before.