By Adnan Abu Zeed for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
Iraqi planes land in Damascus following 7-year hiatus
Following a seven-year hiatus caused by the economic embargo imposed on Syria and the unstable security situation, an Iraqi civilian airplane landed Aug. 20 for the first time at Damascus International Airport. Syria used this step politically and deemed it a victory for the Syrian army against terrorism, as was announced by the Syrian Minister of Transport Aug. 20.
In conjunction with growing air traffic, the director of Damascus International Airport, Nidhal Mohammed, revealed Sept. 12 that the number of arrivals to the airport increased by 20% over the same period last year, and the proportion of air freight also increased 15% from last year.
Prior to the return of the Iraqi airplane to Damascus, Iraqi Airways refrained from operating direct flights to Damascus, except for transit flights. Meanwhile, Syrian companies were transporting Iraqis to Damascus and vice versa — especially visitors to religious sites in Syria.
A Kurdistan 24 press quoted Talar Faiq, the Director-General of Erbil International Airport (EIA) as saying that the KRG could suspend domestic flights between the Kurdistan Region’s airports and the rest of Iraq due to financial issues and Baghdad’s international flight ban.
“Since the Iraqi government’s ban went into effect late September 2017, Iraqi Airways has not paid for its landings at the EIA [for flights originating from Baghdad and other Iraqi airports],” Faiq said. “Baghdad owes the EIA an amount of 37 million USD for landing at the airport,” the Director-General added.
The EIA had previously warned that Baghdad’s ongoing embargo on the airports in the Region might lead to the suspension of domestic flights, as the expenditure at the local airports would be higher than the revenues generated.
It would be difficult to handle its $2.3 million monthly expenses which include employee salaries, allowances, fuel, utilities, electricity, cleaning, and maintenance due to decreased income following the international flight ban,” the EIA said in a statement. “The flight ban also forces the EIA to suspend contracts with French and German companies worth USD 35 million [to renovate and expand the airport],” the statement added.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation in the Kurdistan Region reiterated that the Ministry has not received any formal approval from Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi to lift the ban on international flights from the airports in the region.
Asked whether Baghdad was trying to delay resolving the issue with Erbil, Omed Mohammed said that he has no knowledge why the Federal government has not lifted the ban on the airports after the region had shown commitment to all of the conditions introduced by Iraq.
According to the Kurdish official, the Kurdish Regional Government has already accepted all of the conditions made by the Federal government, but there was no sign from Baghdad’s side to end the punitive measures imposed on the region.
Fly Baghdad‘s Chief Executive Ali al-Hamdany has told Reuters that the budget airline plans to start flights to Europe and India next year, and is planning a stock market listing in 2020. It will also start flights to Ankara and Beirut in the coming weeks.
It currently operates two Boeing 149-seat 737-700 jets and one 50-seat Bombardier CRJ200 to Erbil and Sulaimaniya, and internationally to Istanbul and Amman.
The airline, launched in 2015, is owned by Iraqi investors.
According to Reuters, it aims to become profitable next year after it adds flights to Frankfurt in Germany, Malmo in Sweden, and Delhi in India as part of its proposed network expansion that will also include Dubai.