FAA has issued a new notice to airmen (NOTAM) prohibiting US air carriers from flying in the Damascus Flight Information Region, which includes all of Syria. FAA cited the “ongoing armed conflict and volatile security environment in Syria,” which “poses a serious potential threat to civil aviation.”

According to FAA, “Armed extremist groups in Syria are known to be equipped with a variety of anti-aircraft weapons, which have the capability to threaten civilian aircraft. Opposition groups have successfully shot down Syrian military aircraft using these anti-aircraft weapon systems during the course of the conflict.”

FAA said the new notice replaces the current NOTAM that strongly advises US operators against flying in that airspace and requires them to contact FAA operating in that airspace. 

“Opposition elements have previously warned civilian air carriers against providing service to Syria,” FAA said. “Due to the presence of anti-aircraft weapons among the extremist groups and ongoing fighting in various locations throughout Syria, there is a continuing significant potential threat to civil aviation operating in Syrian airspace.”

The issue of when to order airlines to avoid certain airspace has gained prominence since the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in July. The airliner, a Boeing 777, was flying over Ukraine, an area where anti-aircraft weapons are being used in an on-going war.

Since then, FAA ordered a temporary ban on flights in and out of Tel Aviv after rockets landed close to Ben Gurion Airport. But EASA stopped short of a ban, only strongly advising European carriers not to fly to Israel.

ICAO has formed a high-level task force aimed at clarifying how airlines are advised when airspace is potentially unsafe and how to get that information to carriers in a timely manner.