US fines Virgin Atlantic $1 million for flights over Iraq

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Transportation Department has fined British airline Virgin Atlantic up to $1.05 million for flying over restricted airspace in Iraq while operating flights in a partnership with Delta Air Lines.

The federal agency said the flights occurred between September 2020 and September 2021 while the Federal Aviation Administration had told U.S. airlines to avoid the area.

Atlanta-based Delta owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic. The airlines have a so-called code-sharing agreement in which Delta put its own “code” on some Virgin Atlantic flights and sold seats as if they were Delta airplanes.

The department said that arrangement brought the U.K. carrier under FAA restrictions covering U.S. airlines when a “significant number” of its flights between the United Kingdom and India passed over Iraq. From March 2020 until October 2021, the FAA barred U.S. airlines from flying over Iraq at any altitude because of “heightened militia activities and increased tensions in Iraq.” The FAA still bars civilian planes below 32,000 feet.

In a consent agreement posted Tuesday, Virgin Atlantic said the overflights were inadvertent. The airline said it followed FAA restrictions on code-sharing flights in the past and the violations were caused by disruptions and staff shortages brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The airline said it immediately rerouted flights after learning of the violations.

Half of the fine, or $525,000, will be waived if Virgin Atlantic avoids similar violations for one year.

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