Plans ready if Syria conflict deepens
Global airlines are drawing up emergency plans to re-route planes and absorb higher fuel costs in the event of a military attack on Syria.
Major carriers, including Emirates, the world's biggest airline by international passenger traffic, Etihad and British Airways are on alert as the US considers a potential strike on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
With international support for military action wavering, US President Barack Obama turned to the US Congress at the weekend to authorise a military strike against Syria.
A number of long-haul airlines fly through or close to Syrian airspace to service other major destinations and link to key air traffic hubs in Europe, such as London's Heathrow.
The president of Dubai-based Emirates, Tim Clark, said "contingency plans will be in place should anything happen [in Syria]".
Those plans could involve re-routing aircraft away from the area, Mr Clark said, although he stressed operations would continue as normal unless there was a serious deterioration in the situation.
"We are always in a state of preparedness for anything like this and the operations group of the company will have all of this on watch," he said.
Mr Clark has had experience of managing the airline through multiple regional conflicts, including both Gulf wars. He said measures might involve shifting flights away from Syrian airspace in the event of a military strike.
"If that does happens we will take any measures that we have to to circumvent the areas."
A spokesman for Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, said: "We have drawn up robust flight re-routing contingency plans in the event of any airspace being closed to commercial aircraft."
British Airways said it would be affected if the country's airspace and surrounding areas became a no-fly zone.
"We are keeping our operations under review and we would make any changes that would be necessary," a spokesman for BA said.
Airlines also face a threat from a potential rise in the oil price as a result of the growing tensions in the Middle East.
John Strickland, a London-based aviation analyst at JLS Consulting, said passengers should expect disruptions to travel plans if a conflict breaks out in the region.
"We shouldn't magnify it out of proportion, but what we have seen from other wars or military actions in the Gulf is flight routings may need to change," he said.
"That can disrupt schedules, of course, because if you're having to follow more secure routings you're not able to run to your normal schedule and that directly feeds through to airlines having to burn more fuel."
Brent crude hit $US117 a barrel last week, its highest level since February, as investors grew nervous over the possibility of disruption to oil supplies if a military intervention takes place.
The oil price settled at $US114 a barrel on Friday but the relatively small size of the fall suggests the market anticipates a strong likelihood of a US-led air strike.
"Even if no physical event happens, you have the jitters in the oil market and price spikes, and we have started to see that already," Mr Strickland said.
Analysts at Societe Generale are among those predicting Brent crude could surge by more than $US30 a barrel if the conflict spreads to disrupt supply from other, more important, oil exporters in the Middle East.
Several airline stocks took a hammering last week as a result of fears over oil prices. Shares in International Airlines Group, which owns British Airways and Iberia, lost 10.1 per cent last week.