January 23, 2015
Saad Al-Khafaji, UK director of Iraqi Airways, has confirmed the Gulf airline hopes to launch two routes in March.
The plan, which is still under consideration, is for two flights a week – one to Erbil and another to Sulaimaniya, both in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The route would be non-stop to Iraq, but due to Civil Aviation Authority rules the return service will would stop in Vienna for 90 minutes for security checks.
He added: “There are so many people going back every year to Iraq during the school holidays, at Easter time and in the new year.
“Iraq is a large country and the region run by the Kurdish Regional Government in the north is very safe.
“The problem areas are more in western Iraq.”
He said a non-stop flight would be useful for the Iraqi community, as current flights which stop in Dubai are always fully booked in the summer.
Flights are also very popular in mid-March, for the Kurdish New Year.
He added: “If there is a new route it would be good for the airline, for us and for Manchester Airport.”
Adel, a father of one who used to work voluntarily for the Kurdish Association Centre for Greater Manchester and was headteacher at the Kurdish Supplementary School, left Iraq in 2000.
The Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein, from 1979 – 2003, conducted severe repression against the Kurdish minority.
He added: “When we were in Iraq Saddam Hussein was in power, nobody was allowed to speak freely, there
was no democracy and as a Kurd we were very under pressure.
“At the moment it’s much better than it used to be although there are still problems around Iraq.”
He added: “Kurdish people are now coming to study in Manchester and paying for their own education and contributing.
“It used to be people were seeking asylum, although that is now sometimes the case they are very very few.
“The community is well integrated with other societies in Greater Manchester.”
The airline has also revealed ambitions to start future routes to Basra and Baghdad.
Passengers can already fly from Manchester to Iraq – but there is currently no non-stop option.
Emirates launched flights into Baghdad and Basra via Dubai in 2011, and its route into Erbil took off in 2012.
Etihad, Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines also get passengers to Iraq with one stop.
Mr Al-Khafaji of Iraqi Airways told the M.E.N: “Our flight to Erbil and Sulaimaniya will hopefully start on March 15 but it is still under consideration.
“This flight would be the first commercial schedule ever as a direct service between Manchester Airport and Iraq.
“We would start based on two flights a week to be added to our scheduled flights from London Gatwick which currently run five times a week.
“Our main target is to serve the Iraqi community and business travellers between both countries.
“There is a good Kurdish community and we hope to target a variety of areas in the north and the West Midlands.”
He said the airline has permission from the civil aviation authorities in both Iraq and the UK.
He added: “We are talking to Manchester Airport to set up the flights.
“We also hope to operate very soon a new service to Baghdad and Basra.
“This plan is based on commercial statistics. We study the market and we know those destinations. We are targeting around 15,000 passengers a year for the flights from Manchester.”
The potential new five-and-a-half hour flights would operate with a B737-800, which seats 145 passengers in economy and 12 in business class. Economy tickets would cost £430.
Mr Al-Khafaji said they hoped tickets would go on sale on February 10.
A Manchester Airport spokesman said: “We continue to discuss and progress the commercial case for airlines to connect Manchester to key strategic markets, including further destinations in the Middle East.”
‘If there is a new route it would be good for the airline, for us and for Manchester Airport’
A travel agent who specialises in arranging trips to Iraq for Greater Manchester’s Kurdish community says a direct non-stop flight would be welcomed.
Adel Horamy, 39, a manager at Manchester Travel on Wilmslow Road, is from Kurdistan in Iraq and moved to Manchester in 2000.
Kurdistan is formally recognised as an autonomous Iraqi region.
He said: “We provide tickets mainly for the Iraqi community – for Kurds and Arabs who are travelling back home.