Virgin Atlantic fined for flying with Delta codes in restricted airspace

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British airline Virgin Atlantic has been fined $1.05 million by the U.S. Department of Transportation after the carrier operated flights in restricted airspace in Iraq using Delta Air Lines codes, the department announced Tuesday.

Virgin Atlantic has also been ordered to cease and desist from using a U.S. carrier’s codes in restricted airspace.

Air carriers can share codes, wherein one company, in this case Delta, applies its designation to and sells tickets for a flight actually operated by another airline, in this case Virgin Atlantic.

The sharing must be approved by federal regulators.

One of the regulatory stipulations, though, is that foreign air carriers operating under U.S. codes cannot fly in airspace that the Federal Aviation Administration bans for American operators.

Between Sept. 16, 2020, and Sept. 16, 2021, Virgin Atlantic operated Delta-coded flights in Iraqi airspace despite an FAA notice to air missions restricting said space, according to a USDOT release.

The airspace above the Iraqi capital of Baghdad was closed off due to an increase in violence by sectarian militias in the city.

The flights were between the U.K. and India, according to the USDOT consent order.

According to the response section of the consent order, Virgin Atlantic “states that its prohibited overflights were inadvertent, caused by operational disruptions and loss of personnel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Foreign governments, including the British Department for Transport, had not restricted the same airspace above Baghdad.

“As soon as we were made aware of this compliance issue by the DOT, our code share flight routings were immediately corrected. 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,” Virgin Atlantic told The Washington Times in a statement.

The consent order resolves the matter without litigation. The air carrier is on the hook for $525,000 made in three payments of $175,000 each; the other $525,000 is only due to the U.S. government if the cease and desist order is violated.

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