On the 26th January, during its approach to landing passengers on FlyDubai flight FZ215 reported being struck on the hands and forearms by plastic, believed to have originated from the interior of the aircraft. Several passengers then reported discovering metallic objects near their feet.
After landing at 13.50 (local time), an inspection of the fuselage revealed damage that was consistent with small arms fire. However, the results of a more detailed formal inspection remain ongoing.
As a result of the attack three passengers suffered very minor injuries. No interference was reportedly caused to either the structural integrity or flight capability of the aircraft during its landing.
On the advice of The United Arab Emirates General Civil Aviation Authority, FlyDubai, Emirates, and Etihad Airways all temporarily suspended flights to and from BIAP. Uncorroborated reporting suggested Air Arabia, Gulf Air, Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines, Turkish and Jordanian carriers had also invoked a temporary suspension to their flights.
Small arms attacks have previously been reported against aircraft moving into and out of the BIAP location, especially when utilising flight corridors to the West and North West of the city.
BIAP officials have suggested the decision to re-route flight FZ215 from a western corridor was due to a danger caused by strong wind patterns elsewhere.
ISF have now re-deployed assets around the perimeter of the BIAP to present both a deterrent as well as likely some level of physical reassurance to foreign nationals.
The incident was unlikely to have been the result of a targeted attempt to destroy a civilian aircraft. However, the amount of international exposure this incident has garnered will likely remind terrorist co-ordinators of the impact such an incident would possess. This is likely especially relevant during a period when their future capability is being threatened.
While based upon anecdotal evidence, there would appear to have already been a history of small arms contacts against civilian aircraft during both approach and landing at Baghdad International Airport.
While this should not suggest incidents of this type are at all acceptable or within the margin of safety, it does suggest this particular incident was likely not the result of any increased or renewed intent to target civilian aircraft transiting via the BIAP.
Due to the ballistic limitations of small arms fire, the threat from small arms is only viable during low-level manoeuvres, such as when aircraft are landing or taking off. Consequently in the absence of a total clearance of affected areas by pro-government forces, the most effective response to any ongoing threat of this nature would appear to be the re-direction of civilian aircraft away from contested areas of territory. Given that this incident appears to have occurred as a direct result of some deviation from that pattern it appears likely this preference for alternative approach or exit corridors is already in place.
However, clearly given the structural damage caused by this incident, the subsequent reaction of a number of major carriers, and of course the political response engineered by the potential seriousness of such an event, it is unlikely the incident will be dismissed in a casual manner similar to those previously reported.
Due to the employment of effective counter measures as well as a traditional resistance to the capability of small arms, it is unlikely these types of attacks will prove effective in limiting the level of international support to pro-government security forces.
The redeployment of ISF assets to locations close to the BIAP is unlikely to deter the type of casual small arms contacts that were likely the cause of both this incident, as well other prior reports of damage to aircraft using the BIAP. However, the visibility of those assets may prove effective in deterring any fresh intent that arises as a result of renewed awareness of the impact of aggression towards the BIAP location.
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