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For the last few years flying with Emirates from the UK to Dubai, I've noticed it avoids Iraq and fly over Iran to the north. For example, EK40 from BHX to DXB

enter image description here

From Flightradar24

However, flying this month on EK40 I noticed the exact opposite, the flight avoided Iran and flew over Iraq to the south.

enter image description here

I know that the conflict in Iraq has mellowed recently, but that doesn't explain this: the first picture is of EK40 on Feb 7th 2018, while the second picture is of EK40 on Feb 6th 2018.

So, what could be the reason for avoiding Iran so explicitly when the next day the same flight avoids Iraq?

EK 040 on Flightradar24

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Since December 2017 the Iraqi airspace is used by Emirates again, after Iraq declared the victory over the Islamic State.

Now there are basically two routes to choose between when flying from Turkey to Dubai.

One route passes through Iran and make it look like the flight is explicitly avoiding Iraq. The route crosses the Ankara FIR / Tehran FIR border just north of Iraq, before turning south towards Dubai, such that it just stays outside Iraqi airspace.

The other route (UM688) passes through Iraq and makes it look like the flight is explicitly avoiding Iran. The route structure in Iraq is such that the north-south routes follow the Iran border in order to avoid the military activities near the Syrian border.

The map below shows the route structure with two routes through Iraq highlighted (UM688, Southbound and UM860, Northbound).

Map showing the airspace structure of Iraq and Iran source: Flight Service Bureau

It is likely that the choice of route is made based on financial reasons. From looking at recent flights, Emirates seems to have a preference for flying over Iraq, but occasionally flies over Iran.

The ATS overflight fees of Iraq are at \$3751 (approx. \$0.38 per km) considerably cheaper than those of Iran. Iran charges \$0.004061 per 1000 kg Maximum Take-off Mass (MTOM), per KM, with a 30% reduction for the MTOM in excess of 150 000 kg. For an A380, the cost of crossing Iran would be approximately \$2800 (approx. \$1.80 per km). The slightly longer flight over Iraq, Kuwait (~\$1351 ATS fees) and Bahrain (~\$2101 ATS fees) would consume more fuel but will still be cheaper than crossing Iran.

A reason for crossing Iran occasionally might be that Iraq's airspace is very congested since the re-opening of the airspace. To avoid delays, sub-optimal altitudes or adverse meteorological conditions it may be more attractive to cross over Iran in certain situations.


1sources of the ATS Fees: AIP's of the respective states, section GEN 4.2. As high volume users, Emirates may have negotiated better rates.

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Relations between Iran and most of the Gulf countries have been strained for a few years. The main issues revolve around Iran not willing to join in the gulf oil-pricing strategies. This dates back to the late 70s and was one of the reasons the Shah of Iran was removed as he was seen to be putting OPEC and US interests ahead of Iranian. When Saddam invaded Iran in 1980 it was with the tacit approval of Saudi Arabia and the rest of the gulf states.

Aviationwise, a few months back most of the gulf states closed their airspace to Qatar Airlines because Qatar was deemed to be too friendly to Iran. The UAE was one of those who closed their airspace to Qatar and I would imagine this would have soured the relationship with Iran as well. Based on this, I imagine Iraq would seem a friendlier place to overfly!

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    $\begingroup$ I think you mean "when Saddam invaded Iran" $\endgroup$ – binaryfunt Feb 9 '18 at 5:24
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    $\begingroup$ ooops..fixed it! Thanks binaryfunt! $\endgroup$ – Anilv Feb 9 '18 at 9:24

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