Minister: US sanctions crippling growth of national airline


Damascus – U.S. sanctions on Damascus have crippled the development of national carrier Syrian Arab Airlines, and it has had to cancel orders for new Airbus planes, Transport Minister Yaarob Badr said Tuesday.

Syria can’t place orders for new planes “because of the U.S. sanctions” which Washington imposed in 2004, Badr was quoted as saying in the official Al-Baath newspaper.

“The Syrian fleet has diminished since the Boeing 727s and 747s were put out of service and (some) international flights suspended,” Badr said. He provided no details on the number of planes owned by the national carrier.

SSA, which is also called Syrian Air, is known to have had six Airbus planes as well as eight built by Boeing Co. (BA). The Web site of the airline shows pictures of Airbus A320s and Boeing 727s and 747s.

Badr said the airline had to scrap an Airbus order in recent years because the “European maker was unable to deliver documents demanded by the U.S. in time.

“The company is facing a difficult situation because the number of planes fell and it will be more difficult to start new flight routes,” Badr said. “SSA will be forced to suspend some flights.”

Badr said however SSA was negotiating with an unnamed party to lease planes, and also said Syria’s first private carrier, ‘Souria Louloua,’ would begin domestic flights in the summer.

The U.S. initially slapped a string of economic sanctions on Syria in May 2004, including a ban on the export of certain goods to Damascus and a freeze of Syrian assets. It extended them in April 2006 and widened them in February to target officials engaged in “public corruption,” amid charges Damascus was destabilizing Iraq and Lebanon.

Earlier this month, President George W. Bush said he was extending the sanctions by one year after Washington accused Damascus of building a nuclear reactor with North Korea’s help. Syria has denied the charge.