The United States Department of Transportation (DoT) has fined Virgin Atlantic $1.05million for using Delta Air Lines flight codes on flights that went above Iraqi airspace, where a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) flight prohibition was in effect.
According to the DoT, the British airline flew a significant number of flights above Iraqi airspace while carrying code-sharing passengers from Delta Air Lines, which was subject to restrictions by an FAA-issued Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM). The NOTAM prohibited US airlines from operating flights in the Baghdad Flight Information Region (FIR) from March 12, 2020, to October 22, 2021. Separately, US carriers are also prohibited from flying below FL320 when in the Baghdad FIR, which is in effect to this day. The ban also applies to any “foreign air carriers when they are carrying a U.S. air carrier’s code,” according to the DoT’s docket.
According to a document outlining the case, the British carrier operated flights between the United Kingdom and India. Carrying the US-based airline’s codes, it violated Title 49 Chapter 413 § 41301 of the US Code. While the airline argued that it has historically complied with the requirement to “not to operate flights carrying a U.S. carrier’s designator code that enter, depart, or transit the airspace of any area for whose airspace the FAA has issued a flight prohibition for U.S. civil aviation”, the flights were “inadvertent, caused by operational disruptions and loss of personnel due to the COVID-19 pandemic”.
As such, “any penalty imposed should be significantly mitigated given the circumstances,” the docket stated. However, with the goal to solve the issue without litigation, the airline agreed to the compromise settlement.
The DoT fined Virgin Atlantic $1.05 million, in addition to ordering it to cease and desist from further violations of the US Code. The fine will be split into several payments, with the first $175,000 installment payable within 60 days from January 17, 2023. Two additional installments of the same sum will be paid to the US Treasury 150 and 240 days following the publishing date of the order. If Virgin Atlantic violates the cease and desists or payment provisions within a year, “the entire unpaid amount shall become due and payable immediately and Virgin Atlantic may be subject to additional enforcement action for failure to comply with this order,” the DoT concluded.