x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Iran's threat to airlines

Iran warns airlines that fail to use the term "Persian Gulf" on their in-flight monitors that they will be banned from the country's airspace.

Iran has demanded all in-flight mentions of the waterway to use the
Iran has demanded all in-flight mentions of the waterway to use the "Persian Gulf" or airlines risk being banned from Iranian airspace.

Iran has warned airlines that fail to use the term "Persian Gulf" on their in-flight monitors that they will be banned from the Islamic Republic's airspace, which could have an impact on UAE-based carriers. Hamid Behbahani, Iran's transport minister, has demanded an apology from the Iranian airline Kish Air after one of its stewards referred to the Arabian Gulf during a recent flight.

The minister described the term as "bogus" and went on to threaten other airlines. "The airlines of the southern Persian Gulf flying to Iran are warned to use the term Persian Gulf on their electronic display boards," said Mr Behbahani, according to IRNA, the Iranian state news agency. "If the airlines aren't willing, they will be forbidden to fly in Iranian airspace for a month on the first violation, and upon repetition the aircraft will be grounded in Iran and flight permits to Iran will be revoked."

A spokeswoman for Emirates Airline, who declined to be named, said the airline tries not to use either term. "In our in-flight magazine and on our website, the area in question has not been labelled, as the focus is on our destination cities," the Emirates spokeswoman said. She could not confirm how the area was referred to on in-flight route-mapping displays, or whether the airline had been contacted by Iranian authorities. The airline operates 21 weekly flights to Tehran.

Etihad Airways and Air Arabia could not provide comment yesterday. A Greek air steward for Kish Air was fired and given 20 days to leave the country after he used the term Arabian Gulf on a Tehran-bound flight earlier this week. The unnamed flight attendant threatened to detain passengers when they complained of his use of the term, according to IRNA. Noufal Mohammed, the manager of Kish Air's Dubai office, declined to comment on the incident.

The name of the waterway has been a source of contention between Iran and the Arab countries that border it for decades. It is referred to as the Persian Gulf on most maps and documents published before 1960, but Arab states argue it should be known as the Arabian Gulf, since most of the countries that surround it are Arab ones. Some people and organisations avoid either name and refer to the area simply as "the Gulf". But even that is often met with anger in Iran, which often cites the United Nations endorsement of the term "Persian Gulf" for the body of water.

Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a politics professor at UAE University, said he did not think much would come of the threat, which he described as "bullying". "It's a non-issue that Iran is trying to make into a political issue," he said. "There are much more important issues to attend to in the region." lmorris@thenational.ae