x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Emirates Airline to be bound for Baghdad from November

Emirates Airline will begin serving Baghdad in November, more than a year after Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways began serving the route.

Emirates began flying to the southern oil port town of Basra last year. Andrew Parsons / The National
Emirates began flying to the southern oil port town of Basra last year. Andrew Parsons / The National

Emirates Airline will start flying to Baghdad in November as it seeks to expand its footprint in one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

The Iraqi economy is forecast to grow by 11 per cent this year and next year according to the IMF, spurring demand for air travel.

Emirates began flying to the southern oil port town of Basra last year and was scheduled to launch flights to Baghdad at the same time before delaying the plans "due to operational reasons".

Emirates will join other Middle East airlines including Etihad Airways, Bahrain Air, Gulf Air, Royal Jordanian and Turkish Airlines with the new service to the Iraqi capital, starting on November 13.

"Its geographical location, coupled with the fact that few international carriers operate there, makes [Iraq] the perfect destination for us to tap into and drive revenue from," said Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the chief executive of Emirates. "With more than five million residents in Baghdad and its surrounding districts, this new service will provide them with direct access to our vast global network."

Emirates will operate the service four times weekly and expects the passenger mix to come from a variety of sources, with a heavy emphasis towards industry and government personnel.

The construction, telecommunications and oil sectors are expected to make up three of the largest industry segments. The airline will fly a wide-bodied Airbus A330 aircraft with cabins for first-class, business and economy.

Emirates said it would leverage its global network to provide transfer traffic between Iraq and the GCC, Levant, India, China and the UK.

Despite conditions in Iraq steadily improving for years, Middle East airlines have been slow to serve Baghdad, with many insurers categorising the country as a war zone. But improving terms from insurers, as well as bilateral agreements between Iraq and the UAE, paved the way for the first flights to Baghdad from Etihad last year. Demand has been strong, with flights more than 70 per cent full, according to the Abu Dhabi airline.

Emirates services to Basra have been "well above expectations".

Baghdad will be the fifth new international destination for Emirates this year. It already flies to Basra and Geneva, while flights to Copenhagen begin on August 1, with St Petersburg to follow on November 1.

igale@thenational.ae