The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued a $1.8m fine to Emirates for operating flights using a US carrier’s code in prohibited airspace. 

According to the department, the company operated flights under a codeshare agreement with JetBlue that continued to use the US airline’s code in airspace prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

While the codeshare agreement had been approved by the US regulator, flights operated by Emirates were required to drop JetBlue’s B6 designator code while flying over affected airspace. 

However, the DOT alleged that Emirates failed to take this step for a “significant number of flights” between December 2021 and August 2022 while flying over Iraqi airspace, specifically the Baghdad Flight Information Region. 

The heightened fine was issued due to the repeating nature of the offence, with Emirates previously fined for flying JetBlue’s code over Iranian airspace in October 2020, when it was also ordered to cease and desist from similar violations. 

The airline will be required to pay $1.5m of the fine within 60 days but the remaining $300,000 will only become payable if Emirates violates the consent order again within the next year. 

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In response to the DOT’s accusations, Emirates claimed that its pilots had been unable to ascend to the altitude required by the FAA due to instructions from air traffic controllers, despite the routes being planned to operate above Flight Level 320, where use of US codes would be permitted. 

A statement said: “Our pilots duly followed ATC (air traffic control) instructions, a decision which is fully aligned with international aviation regulations for safety reasons.” 

While Emirates’ codeshare agreement with JetBlue came to an end in 2022, the airline continues to operate shared flights between North America and the UAE through partnerships with United and Air Canada

The DOT’s fine highlights the department’s increased scrutiny of the aviation industry in recent years, coming soon after it introduced new rules designed to force airlines to provide automatic refunds for cancelled or significantly altered flights.