US-contracted carrier to stop flying over Iran
By MATT MILLHAM | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 17, 2014
The company whose flight from Afghanistan was forced to land in Iran with nearly 100 Americans on board earlier this month says it will stop flying over Iranian airspace.
DFS Middle East, which provides flights for various civilian personnel involved in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, made the announcement Wednesday in a notice to customers alerting them of a ticket price increase.
DFS cited a handful of reasons for what will amount to an $85 jump in the price of a one-way ticket between Afghanistan and Dubai beginning Tuesday. The company said its fuel costs in Afghanistan have jumped more than 140 percent this year because of changes in contractual arrangements and sponsorship agreements under which it serves U.S. and International Security Assistance Force bases in Afghanistan. The company also said it’s paying an additional $300,000 a month in fees because of an “operational surcharge” levied on all charter flights from Dubai to Afghanistan.
DFS did not elaborate on the contractual or sponsorship changes. The company also did not explain who was levying surcharges on Afghanistan-bound flights, though it is most likely the Afghan government, which has feuded frequently with contractors working for or on behalf of the U.S.-led military alliance in the country.
The trigger for the price increase, though, appears to be the Sept. 5 incident in which a Boeing 737 carrying some 140 people from the American base at Bagram Airfield in eastern Afghanistan to Dubai was forced by Iranian officials to land in the Iranian city of Bandar Abbas.
The U.S. State Department said the plane was forced to land due to a “bureaucratic issue.” DFS said in its statement Wednesday that the flight was diverted “for an unspecified reason which was an uncomfortable situation for our passengers, the airline and everyone involved.”
The plane took off three hours later and landed in Dubai without incident.
The plane carried the logo of low-cost carrier FlyDubai; a spokeswoman for DFS said she wasn’t at liberty to explain the arrangement between DFS and FlyDubai, noting that the latter had yet to release a statement on the matter.
Contract flights carrying American civilian personnel between Afghanistan and Dubai have typically flown over Iran because it is the most direct route between the two countries and generally no riskier than alternatives. Other options are to fly a more southerly route over Pakistan or a circuitous northerly route that is at least three times the distance and could include transiting Iraqi and Syrian airspace.
The DFS spokeswoman said the company planned to fly over Pakistan, which increases flight time and fuel costs compared to the route over Iran.