Cathay Pacific suspends flights over Iran after missile warning

A Cathay Pacific cargo plane.
A Cathay Pacific cargo plane. PHOTO: CATHAY PACIFIC AIRWAYS

HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong's flagship carrier Cathay Pacific has suspended flights over Iran and the Caspian Sea after the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued a warning about missiles being fired at Syria.

The EASA stepped in as Russia intensifies its air campaign against Islamic militants in Syria. Last week, Moscow launched a salvo of cruise missiles from its warships in the Caspian.

Cathay said on Wednesday (Oct 14) that it had suspended flights in response to the dangers.

"In view of the situation in the region, Cathay Pacific suspended all flights over Iran and Caspian Sea since last Thursday until further notice," it said in a statement.

The airline said it had received safety advisories from both the EASA and the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) but added that neither had made specific recommendations to carriers.

Cathay already has a long-term policy not to overfly Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine and Syria, the statement said.

In its safety bulletin released last week, EASA said "missiles en-route to Syria crossed airspace in Iran and Iraq below flight routes used by commercial transport aeroplanes".

The missiles had been launched from the Caspian Sea, it said, adding that the advisory was to "create awareness" for airspace users.

Australian carrier Qantas said on Wednesday that it had chosen not to suspend flights over the area.

"The Europeans said that those issues were there, but didn't make any recommendations or changes to what airlines do," said chief executive Alan Joyce.

"If there was a problem, and if does turn into being a problem, Qantas will not be flying aircraft through that airspace. But the information that we have is it is safe to do so." Qantas flies over Iran on its Dubai to London leg.

Russia said on Tuesday that its air force had hit 86 "terrorist" targets in Syria in the past 24 hours - the highest one-day tally since it launched its bombing campaign on September 30.

Washington and its allies - engaged in their own air war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) - accuse Moscow of targeting moderate Western-backed rebels and seeking to prop up President Bashar al-Assad, a long-time Russian ally.

The air safety fears come as investigators on Tuesday issued their final report into the fate of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, concluding that it was shot down by a Russian-made BUK missile fired from war-torn eastern Ukraine.

The Boeing 777 was downed last year, killing all 298 people on board.