Two days ago a historic moment occurred at London’s Gatwick International Airport … however it happened a nine days later than planned considering much of Europe’s airspace had been closed due to a volcanic ash cloud.
On Sunday afternoon an Iraqi Airways Boeing 737-400 (operated by Tor Air) touched down at London Gatwick Airport (LGW) with 30 passengers, the first commercial airline flight from Baghdad International Airport (SDA) to the United Kingdom since service was suspended in 1990 due to political and economic sanctions against the former Iraqi Government.
While it is nice to see Iraq’s flag carrier back in the air, the airline’s arrival at London Gatwick Airport was met by more than news crews, ramp tugs and ramp handlers … it was also met by attorneys from the Kuwaiti Government seeking to seize the assets of Iraqi Airways.
The British High Courts have upheld that the Iraqi Government owes Kuwait US$1.2bil for stolen assets during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, including theft of ten aircraft and the contents of Kuwait International Airport (KWI). While the current Iraqi Government is claiming it is not responsible for these debts, as the invasion was carried out under the over Government, the British Courts have upheld the debt and Kuwait’s right to seize Iraqi assets.
Here is where it gets tricky … Iraqi Airways is not operating its own aircraft to the United Kingdom. Iraqi Airways’ twice weekly scheduled flights are operated by Tor Air, a Swedish ACMI Lease company. ACMI Leasing means that Tor Air provides the Aircraft, Crew, Maintenance and Insurance (hence ACMI), thus nothing on the aircraft is property of Iraqi Airways … in fact Iraqi Airways’ sales office in the UK is not even operated by the airline, it is contracted through IKB International PLC, part of the Al-Burhan Group. The Al-Burhan Group is an independently owned diverse corporation, so the Kuwaiti Government can’t seize their assets.
Personally, I am happy to see Iraqi Airways growing, if the country is to move forward and prosper it must have access to the world and in turn the world must have access to it. An increasing number of commercial scheduled airlines are serving Iraq, with quite a few more seeking accesses to the country. The country must sustain its own airline in order to compete.
When I was at Basrah International Airport in Southern Iraq in 2003 the airport was littered with random Iraqi Airways parts, hardly the shell of an airline I ever thought would fly again … so hopefully we’ll see the Iraqi Airways load factors grow beyond 30 passengers, but it’s a start for the first flight in 20 years.