This week, the UK skies fell oddly silent due to flight cancellations caused by the eruption of a volcano in Iceland. As business and holiday travellers fret over changed plans and lost vacation, one particularly symbolic flight hangs in the balance. Passengers booked onto the 11am Iraqi Airways flight to Baghdad on Saturday, April 17 are awaiting news of whether their flight will board tomorrow, Sunday or Monday. When it does take off, it will be the first direct commercial service between the British capital and Iraq in almost 20 years, and it represents another small step on Iraq’s long road to recovery.
Saad al-Khafaji, the general manager of the Iraqi Airways office in the UK, told Travel Weekly the airline has planned to operate five flights a week within the next three months, with the increased activity aiding the countrys recovery following the 2003 invasion. Plans in 2007 to resume a direct service were shelved.
Iraqi Airways uses IKB Travel and Tours as its principal agent in the UK and Ireland.
With visa regulations on entry into Iraq still tight and the security situation remains dire, the London-Baghdad services are likely to be used by ex-pat Iraqis and the relatives and friends of Iraqi citizens, as well as non-governmental organisations, government officials and others working to rebuild and stabilise the country.
Access to Ancient Sites
However it is hoped the route will one day also be used by tourists, researchers and students of history wanting to experience the country’s rich ancient culture, including the site of Babylon and the rebuilt National Museum in Baghdad. These sites, like many other ancient wonders across the country, were largely destroyed during the war or in its aftermath.
Lonely Planets Tom Hall, says it’s impossible to predict when this might happen. I would be very surprised if flights to Baghdad resulted in a growth of tourist traffic there in the near future, he said. It is simply far too early for that.
Turkish Airlines became the first major international carrier to resume flights to Iraq when it opened its Istanbul-Baghdad route in October 2008. Etihad Airways, Gulf Air and Royal Jordanian are among the other commercial operators currently flying to Baghdad Al Muthana International Airport, however Iraqi Airways is the only one offering a direct service from the British capital; Gulf Air flies to London via its hub in Bahrain. Lufthansa plans to reopen Frankfurt and Munich services to Baghdad this European summer its first flights to Iraq in two decades.
FedEx and DHL operate civilian and military cargo services to the airport, which is located 10 miles west of the city. The airport was known as Saddam International Airport prior to the 2003 invasion, and reverted to civilian control in August 2004. The passenger terminal has three gate areas which were originally named after the ancient sites of Babylon, Samarra, and Nineveh; today they are known only as A, B and C.
The first commercial flight from the UK may yet take off on schedule, but European tourism to some the world’s most fascinating ancient sites has without a doubt experienced significant delays up to now.