Direct passenger flights could resume between the UK and Baghdad after the airline bmi announced plans to open an Iraq service.
It flies to some of the most politically sensitive destinations in the world from Heathrow, including Sierra Leone, Lebanon and Iran, and has held talks with Iraqi government officials about adding Baghdad to its network. The UK government has banned direct travel between the UK and Iraq by UK aircraft or British registered carriers, but bmi indicated today that it will lobby for a lifting of restrictions.
The airline announced its plans at an Iraq investment conference in London attended by the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and Lord Mandelson, the business secretary. Nigel Turner, bmi chief executive, said he had handed a letter to Iraq’s transport minister, Amr Abduljabber Ismail, suggesting a reopening of air links between Baghdad and the UK.
“I have told Iraqi officials and business that subject to the required levels of operational integrity and safety being satisfactorily achieved and appropriate governmental approval, bmi is ready and willing to once again re-establish air links between Heathrow and Baghdad,” he said.
It is possible to travel from the UK to Baghdad if passengers take connecting flights. For instance, Turkish Airlines offers a return flight to Baghdad from Stansted, via Istanbul, at £804. The British airline is keen to add destinations such as Baghdad to its network because it believes serving less conventional destinations from Heathrow is a more viable business than competing directly with the likes of British Airways on destinations such as New York and Cape Town.
“It makes both geographical and economic sense for us to add Iraq to our growing network of services to the region. Iraq is surrounded on four sides by countries that we already serve from Heathrow. We are carrying an ever increasing number of passengers who, at the moment, travel from Baghdad to Heathrow via our existing intermediate point of Amman. As trade and business ties grow we envisage that these numbers will grow,” said Turner.
British Airways scrapped its Baghdad service in the run-up to the first gulf war in February 1990. Controlled by aviation entrepreneur Sir Michael Bishop, bmi is finalising a takeover by Germany’s national carrier, Lufthansa.