Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority suspends international flights to Kurdish region following referendum
Flydubai joins other airlines in suspending flights to Erbil
Dubai-based budget carrier flydubai is temporarily suspending its flights to Erbil, complying with an Iraqi government demand following an independence referendum in Kurdish-held northern Iraq.
Flights would be suspended to the region's main city from September 30, a flydubai spokesman told The National, following similar announcements from other airlines.
Turkish carriers Turkish Airlines, Atlas and Pegasus, which offer frequent connections to Iraqi Kurdistan, will halt their flights from Friday, the Turkish consulate in Erbil said.
Lebanon's Middle East Airlines said it would also stop flights to and from Erbil from Friday while EgyptAir announced its flights would also halt that day "until further notice."
People in northern Iraq voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence in Monday’s non-binding vote that was opposed by Baghdad, Turkey and Iran, who all fear it could encourage separatism among their own Kurdish populations.
The Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority sent a notice on Wednesday to foreign airlines telling them international flights to Erbil and Sulaimaniya in the Kurdish region would be suspended on Friday at 1500 GMT and only domestic flights allowed.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi, whose government strongly opposed the referendum, had threatened on Tuesday to order a halt to all flights serving airports in Iraqi Kurdistan in response to the independence vote.
More than 92 per cent of Iraq's Kurds voted "Yes" for independence in the referendum, according to the first official results announced on Wednesday, two days after the disputed plebiscite.
Mr Al Abadi had said he would ban "international flights to and from Kurdistan" from Friday unless the airports in Erbil and the city of Sulaimaniya were placed under the control of the federal government in Baghdad.
The transport minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Mawloud Bawah Murad, expressed bafflement at the move by Baghdad.
"Arbil and Sulaimaniyah airports were built from the budget of the Kurdistan government," he told a press conference in Arbil.
"We want more clarifications from the Iraqi government on its demand to hand them the two airports, because we don't understand how to give them the two airports, when they are already subject to the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority."
Lebanon's Middle East Airlines chairman Mohammed Al Hout said the carrier would work to ensure Lebanese citizens could leave Iraqi Kurdistan through other Iraqi airports.
"We will not leave any Lebanese stranded. They will be able to go to Baghdad, Basra or Najaf as transit points," he said.
Baghdad has reacted with anger to Monday's Kurdish independence vote, with Mr Al Abadi saying that it must be annulled.
* with agencies