Seeking to return from the wilderness
Not every Middle Eastern airline can transform the region’s excellent location for trade into a bonus. Iraqi Airways – state-owned, but for how much longer? – is one operator that for decades now has suffered particularly harshly on account of its national political situation. The government in Baghdad is currently looking into more than just symbolic measures to rejuvenate the carrier.
In mid-May images with multifaceted symbolism reached the media. They depicted Wertie Babeker as the first woman to fly Boeing B737-800s for Iraqi Airways. The fact that an Iraqi woman flew a commercial aeroplane in Iraq again, for the first time since the invasion of Iraq by western powers in 2003, gave Kadhim Finjan al-Hamami, the country’s minister for communication and transportation, great hope that her example would inspire other women in the country to pursue a career in the transport industry too.
Over and above this gender element of Wertie Babeker’s exemplary role comes the fact that the young pilot is a Kurd who lived in Denmark as a refugee for 23 years, where she had also been trained. She returned to Iraq on account of the promising career prospects there. “I could only fly small aeroplanes in Denmark, but I wanted to fly big jets in the skies over Baghdad, Erbil and my home town of Sulaymaniyah,” Babeker said. Her wish was fulfilled when she captained two flights serving Cairo and Dubai (UAE).
Privatisation and modernisation
Further assignments as well as a flight to her second home Denmark will have to wait, however, as Iraqi Airways has not been permitted to fly through EU air space since August 2015. At the end of May, then, Iraq’s prime minister Haider al-Abadi revived plans for the privatisation of the carrier, established in 1945, outlined by transport minister al-Hamami as well as his predecessor Hadi al-Amiri. One of the objectives is to put an end to some of the abuses taking place in this member of the Arab Air Carriers’ Organisation (Aaco) that have leaked into the public domain, such as the promotion of co-pilots without the requisite training to the rank of captain.
The continuation of Iraqi Airways’ collaboration with the management consultancy Lufthansa Consulting, which was launched in 2008, represents another sign of the carrier’s efforts to return to the international aviation fold. Last November al-Hamami signed a comprehensive contract for a long-term strategic consultancy and implementation project that will focus on the restructuring of the national airline and of the country’s civil aviation authority, as well as the optimisation of the nation’s airports.
Return to Europe through the back door
At least Iraqi Airways was able to increase its profit in March by 32% vis-à-vis March 2016, thanks also to “a positive cargo performance”. And the European skies are also not completely closed to Iraqi Airways, at least. It serves cities with sizeable populations of people of Iraqi origin in Sweden, Germany, the UK and elsewhere with a Boeing B737-800, wet-leased from the Slovakian charter operator Air Explore.
There are other openings just east of Europe too, for example Minsk (Belarus), which is served from Baghdad. At the end of June the Belarusian capital will additionally be served from Erbil.
On top of this, Iraq signed an air traffic treaty with Serbia in spring, which foresees the resumption of scheduled services between the two countries. The winds of change are blowing strongly. The new deal replaces a treaty signed in 1975 – when Belgrade was still the capital of a state called Yugoslavia, and the Iran-Iraq war was still five years down the line...