Dubai: Etihad Airways said on Sunday it plans to launch regular flights to Baghdad next week, one of a growing number of carriers betting that Iraq’s fragile security gains will lead to an uptick in travel.
The Abu Dhabi-based carrier plans to start service from its base in the United Arab Emirates capital beginning 26 April, provided it can secure government and regulatory approval.
Initial plans call for five return flights a week to Baghdad using Airbus A320s. Additional flights to the northern city of Irbil are slated to start in June.
Airlines are slowly returning to war-ravaged Iraq as security improves and business begins to pick up after years of bloodshed. Pilots no longer have to execute dramatic corkscrew landings to avoid ground fire, and the once dangerous road from Baghdad International Airport is now largely secure.
Etihad will be the first Emirati airline to provide regular passenger service between Iraq and the Emirates with its Abu Dhabi flights. Iraqi Airways and a number of charter companies already fly to the nearby city of Dubai, the Middle East’s busiest air hub.
Etihad Chief Executive James Hogan said the airline expects strong demand, particularly from government and business travelers.
The state-owned carrier began operating cargo flights to Baghdad in September.
Etihad expects to expand passenger service to the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, where it also delivers cargo, on 1 June. That city, which serves as the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region, has enjoyed an investment bonanza thanks to the region’s security, oil wealth and relative independence from the rest of Iraq.
Etihad is the latest carrier to tap the potentially lucrative Iraqi market, which has grown more tempting with the drop in violence. Others are eyeing it too.
“Iraq is an important market and we hope to start services soon,” Ghaith al-Ghaith, the chief executive of Dubai’s state-run budget carrier FlyDubai, told The Associated Press by email.
Bahrain’s Gulf Air last year started flying to a handful of Iraqi cities, including Baghdad and the southern Shiite shrine city of Najaf, last year. Royal Jordanian Airlines and Beirut-based Middle East Airways are among the carriers that also fly to the Iraqi capital.
German airline Lufthansa said in January it plans to resume flights to Iraq this summer, twenty years after it stopped service at the outbreak of the Gulf War.