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Passenger traffic, flights at Kurdistan airports on the rise
BY: Rawa Abdulla
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The number of flights and passengers who passed through Kurdistan airports last year was considerably higher than the year before, according to official figures from the two international airports.
The number of visitors to Kurdistan during last year was more than the number in previous years.
In 2013, the number of visitors who traveled through Erbil airport was nearly 1.2 million, and the number last year rose to 1.5 million -- an increase of 31 percent. Sulaimani airport registered a similar increase, rising from 373,000 in 2013 to 519,000 in 2014, a 39 percent increase.
The numbers rose despite security and financial challenges facing Kurdistan, including a drop in tourism due to the war with the Islamic State (ISIS) that began in June.
Talar Fayiq, director general of Erbil International Airport, said: “We expected that the security and financial challenges facing the Kurdistan Region would have a negative impact on the number of travellers. But on the contrary, due to the deterioration of security in Iraqi provinces, in particular Mosul, the residents of those provinces chose to travel through Erbil airport. Also, some of them preferred to fly to the southern provinces through our airport.”
She added: “Due to the security situation in Kurdistan and Iraq, during the last year 93 percent of our flights were international. I can say the security situation changed the direction of our flights, because in the past we used to have more internal flights.”
Commenting on the reason for the rise in the number of flights Tahir Abdulla, director general of Sulaimani Airport, said: "Following the ISIS attacks and deterioration of the security situation in Mosul and many other Iraqi provinces, ground transportation between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region became very dangerous. People chose to travel to Kurdistan by air, which caused huge pressure on Iraqi airways. At Sulaimani airport, we would receive 400 to 500 individuals on a daily basis. As a result, the number of travelers through Sulaimani airport increased."
The number of overseas airlines adding Erbil or Sulaimani to their scheduled destinations has increased year after year. Many travel agencies in Erbil and Sulaimani have opened to help travelers book tickets and make travel arrangements.
Moon Line company is one such, and is the representative of the Galileo International Company. Brwa Saeed Qadir, head of the company's council, confirmed that demand for air travel increased after the summer’s ISIS offensive in Iraq.
"In the first three months of 2014, due to the financial crisis, the number of travelers was very low. But following the ISIS attacks on Kurdistan and the fall of Mosul, the number of flights increased. Our ticket sales in 2014 witnessed an increase of 26 percent compared to 2013."
He added: “In addition to selling tickets to Arabs and Christians of Mosul and other cities who traveled trough Erbil or Sulaimani airport, we booked tickets for over 8,000 Indian and Pakistani engineers, as well as for foreign investors who fled Kurdistan for security reasons."
At most airports worldwide, in addition to international flights there are also internal flights between cities and towns. But there are no such flights in the Kurdistan Region.
Abdulla said that, according to the Iraqi constitution Iraqi Airways is responsible for domestic flights. However, the airline has begun no such flights between Kurdish cities and towns.
"In accordance to the constitution, airspace is the exclusive right of the federal government. Therefore, foreign companies have been reluctant to conduct a study on the economic feasibility of internal flights between Erbil and Sulaimani. They are afraid that they might face legal problems with the federal government," Abdulla said.
He stressed that the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Ministry of Transportation and Communications should discuss this issue with its Iraqi counterpart, as well as with Iraqi Airways.
"I'm confident, if there is an internal flight, there would be so much demand on it," he commented.
But Fayiq said that due to the short distance between Erbil and Sulaimani such a flight would not be economically feasible.
Source : Rudaw