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Airlines cut back Iran services as coronavirus fears loom large

Several airline carriers are suspending their operations to Iran in response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak in the country.


The United Arab Emirates has become the latest nation to ban all flights to Iran. “All passenger and cargo aircraft traveling to and from Iran will be suspended for a period of one week, and could be up for extension,” the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority is quoted as saying by the state-owned WAM news agency. “The decision is a precautionary measure undertaken by the UAE to ensure strict monitoring and prevention of the spread of the new coronavirus.”


The UAE is a transit hub for Iranians given the restrictions placed on operations to their country by US sanctions. Emirates and Flydubai both operate to Iran. Cirium schedules data lists a total of 128 weekly flights in each direction between the two nations for February.


Turkish Airlines stated it had ceased flying to all destinations in Iran until 10 March. The Star Alliance member has also extended its cancellation of services to mainland China until the 29th of February. “In addition, due to the decree of Turkey’s official authorities, foreign citizens who were in China and Iran in the last 14 days will not be granted entry to Turkey,” it says. This represents 28 flights per week to Iran, Cirium data shows.


Oman’s civil aviation authority also took the step of temporarily suspending flights from the 24th of February, in addition to its decision to suspend flights to mainland China. Kuwait suspended flights to Iran on 20th of February, the country’s national airline says, and has now canceled flights to Thailand and Italy.


Iraq, Afghanistan, Georgia, and Tajikistan have also reportedly canceled flights to and from Iran. Iranian carriers have also been told to suspend flights to China.


Combined, these seven countries plus Turkish Airlines’ non-Tehran Iranian flights and Iranian carriers’ flights to China represent a total of 724 each-way services per week, Cirium data shows, out of a total of 3,667 Iranian flights. Some 246 weekly flights were scheduled to operate from Iran to countries outside the Middle East, the majority to Turkey or Asia. A large proportion of these are now suspended.


The impact of the restriction is relatively limited because US sanctions mean that few international carriers operate to Iran, with many other airlines have canceled their services to the country after the shootdown of a Ukraine International Airlines jet outside Tehran in January.


At least 15 people have now died from coronavirus in Iran, according to John Hopkins University tracking data, giving the country the highest death toll outside mainland China.