UPDATE 1-Lufthansa extends Iran cancellations, resumes flights to Iraq

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BERLIN, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Lufthansa has extended its suspension of flights to Iran, the German airline said on Friday, after the deadly crash of a Ukrainian airliner in a suspected accidental missile strike outside Tehran.

Lufthansa said it had grounded its daily Frankfurt-Tehran service until Jan. 20 “as a precautionary measure”. But Lufthansa-owned Austrian Airlines on Friday resumed flights from Vienna to Erbil, Iraq, while Lufthansa has scheduled a Frankfurt-Erbil flight on Jan. 14, the airline group said.

All 176 passengers and crew aboard the Ukraine International Airlines plane were killed when it crashed soon after take-off from Tehran early on Wednesday. The United States and Canada have said the plane was brought down by Iranian missiles, probably by mistake, a claim Iran denies.

The Boeing 737 came down hours after Iran had fired missiles at two U.S. military bases in neighbouring Iraq, while Iran was on high alert.

Lufthansa has been the only major European carrier flying to Iran since 2018, when Air France pulled out. The German carrier’s LH600 flight was cancelled on Wednesday but took off for the Iranian capital on Thursday before turning back halfway to return to Frankfurt.

The decision reflected a “changed assessment of the security situation for the airspace around Tehran airport”, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

Besides its Tehran service, Lufthansa flies twice weekly to Erbil, while Austrian operates a daily flight the northern Iraqi city that was also cancelled on Thursday.

With the exception of Middle Eastern carriers, all other major airlines have largely avoided Iraqi and Iranian airspace since the Iranian missile strikes, which prompted an immediate order barring U.S. carriers from the area.

The British government followed suit on Friday in a formal notice to airlines that was welcomed by their pilots. The EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) also recommended avoiding Iran overflights below 25,000 feet in addition to Iraqi airspace.

“We urge the government and airlines to maintain this position until and unless there is a significant improvement in the security situation in the Middle East,” the British pilots’ union BALPA said in a statement. (Reporting by Klaus Lauer and Laurence Frost Writing by Michelle Martin Editing by Riham Alkousaa and Louise Heavens)