Iraq News

Iraqi skies reopen to civil aviation as ISIS loses grip

By Khalid al-Taie

International civil aviation companies are once again operating over Iraqi skies. [Photo from the Iraqi Airways Facebook page]

International civil aviation companies are once again operating over Iraqi skies. [Photo from the Iraqi Airways Facebook page]

International civil aviation companies are once again operating over Iraqi skies.

When the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) overran Mosul and other cities in June 2014, the number of flights using Iraqi airspace dropped due to security concerns, with many aviation companies classifying Iraqi skies as a war zone.

To address the situation, the Ministry of Transportation began a process of talks with the International Air Transport Association, International Civil Aviation Organisation and international airlines, said ministry spokesman Salem Moussa.

Over the course of a year, the talks sought to convince international airline authorities to resume flights across Iraqi skies, he told Diyaruna, "particularly due to victories scored by Iraqi forces against ISIS".

These efforts have finally paid off, Moussa said, with Arab and international airlines resuming flights over Iraqi airspace.

"Two secure flight paths are now operational from the north to the south of the country, with the possibility of more flight paths to accommodate the anticipated air traffic," he said.

The ministry also has upgraded the air control system "by introducing new techniques and radars and training workers to use them", he added.

At present, he said, 150 passenger planes a day are arriving in Iraq, up from between 20 to 25 a day from a handful of regional flight operators.

The increase in daily flights is a sign of improved security, he added.

"We have direct flights to neighbouring and regional airports and there are talks to open new flight paths with such countries as Greece, Serbia and Belarus," he said.

Ministry of Transportation officials are seeking permission for Iraqi Airways to transit European skies and land in European airports after meeting the requirements of the European Aviation Safety Agency, he said.

"We have taken firm steps in this regard and hope to arrive at positive results by next month," Moussa said.

Security fears alleviated

The increase in flights using Iraqi airspace "indicates that Iraq is opening up to the world again", said Iraqi MP Nathim al-Saidi, who chairs the parliamentary services committee.

It also shows that "security fears have been alleviated as a result of the sacrifices made by the Iraqi forces", he told Diyaruna.

"As a result [of these sacrifices], the efforts of the Ministry of Transportation to revive international aviation via Iraqi airspace have been successful," he said.

The Iraqi Airways monitoring department also has played a "significant role" in reopening pathways for civilian airlines and ensuring smooth and safe operations, al-Saidi said.

"This development will encourage more commercial flight carriers to choose Iraq for safe passage, particularly since it is ideally situated on the map to allow transportation between eastern and western hemisphere countries," he said.

The resumption of commercial aviation can only be positive for the Iraqi economy, said economist Basem Jamil Antoine, and will "send a strong message to the world that the threat of terrorism no longer plagues the country".

This will ultimately help with drawing investors’ attention to investment opportunities available in the country, he told Diyaruna.

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