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Virgin Atlantic Fined $1 Million for Flying Over Iraq

The U.S. Department of Transportation has jurisdiction over the U.K.-based airline due to its codeshare agreement with Delta Air Lines

by Fergus Cole

January 18, 2023

Virgin Atlantic / Photo: Croatorum/Shutterstock

U.K. carrier Virgin Atlantic has been fined $1.05 million by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) for flying in restricted airspace over Iraq.

According to the department—which has jurisdiction over the U.K.-based airline due to its codeshare agreement with Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines—Virgin Atlantic entered restricted airspace over Iraq on numerous occasions between September 2020 and September 2021. It is reported that these were commercial flights between the U.K. and India—routes that were using Delta’s code.

Photo: Courtesy of Delta Air Lines

A previous notice issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibited all U.S. airlines from operating commercial flights over Iraqi airspace without approval. The warning was made in March 2020 in response to “heightened militia activities and increased tensions in Iraq.”

Other governments issued similar warnings to their carriers at the time, including the U.K., although other countries still permitted their airlines to fly over Iraq above certain altitudes. The notice by the FAA also prohibited U.S. carriers from flying over Iran.

According to USDOT, Virgin Atlantic told them the flights in question “were inadvertent, caused by operational disruptions and loss of personnel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The excuse failed to appease the U.S. agency, however.

“By carrying the DL (Delta) code on flights in airspace in which the FAA prohibits U.S. carriers from flying, Virgin Atlantic operated in violation of the conditions of its statement of authorization and in violation of federal law,” the department said in a statement.

The first half of the fine, amounting to $525,000, will be paid by Virgin Atlantic over three installments. The remaining $525,000 will only be paid if the carrier violates the ruling again or fails to make a payment.

In response to USDOT’S ruling, a spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic said, “As soon as we were made aware of this compliance issue by the DoT, our codeshare flight routings were immediately corrected.

Photo: Courtesy of Boeing Commercial Airplanes

“We have thoroughly reviewed and strengthened our systems and processes. The safety and security of our aircraft, customers, and crew was never compromised at any point and remains our highest priority.”

The situation with Virgin Atlantic is not unique in the aviation industry, with Dubai-based airline Emirates being cited for a similar offense in 2020. Back then, Emirates was issued a $400,000 fine by USDOT for flying over Tehran. This also violated federal law due to the carrier’s codeshare agreement with JetBlue.

After complying with the FAA’s regulations, Emirates did not pay the fine in full. Virgin Atlantic is no doubt hoping for a similar outcome.