Emirates Airlines
An A380 Emirates Airlines plane flies over Paris. Reuters

Emirates Airlines is to stop flying over Iraq following concerns that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) militants now hold the missile capabilities to target commercial airliners.

Following the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 by suspected pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, Sir Tim Clark, president of Emirates, told The Times that the airline industry was beginning to review its flight paths over conflict zones.

"This is a political animal but...the fact of the matter is MH17 changed everything, and that was very nearly in European airspace," he said.

"We cannot continue to say, 'Well it's a political thing'. We have to do something. We have to take the bull by the horns."

United States is investigating whether Isis fighters, who last month stormed through northern Iraq, capturing key cities, has acquired missiles capable of targeting civilian aircraft at 30,000ft or higher.

US Special Forces in Iraq have reportedly been assigned the task to investigate the claims, amid revelations that hundreds of flights pass over Isis-held territory every day. Some airlines such as British Airways fly directly over the recently-captured city of Mosul.

Alternative flight paths

Clark revealed that Emirates will re-route its flight paths over Iraq when flying to European cities over the comings weeks.

Alternative routes would include flying over Iran or across Saudi Arabia and the Red Sea, into Egypt and up into European airspace. This re-routing is expected to add 45 minutes to journeys.

"We can't do it all at once because we have got an awful lot going through it, but yes we will be doing that," Clark said.

"That is the kind of thing that will demonstrate to the public that we take this extremely seriously and that is exactly what we are doing."

The airline executive predicted that others airlines would follow suit in reviewing its flight routes over conflict zones following the loss of all 298 passengers and crew on board MH17 in eastern Ukraine.

"The horrors that this created was a kick in the solar plexus for all of us," he said. "Nevertheless having got through it we must take stock and deal with it.

"From out of this ghastly, hideous mass murder - if we are going to get anything out of it - it is that the airline community are minded to try and improve what they do."