Empty Erbil airport after the flight ban came into effect last week. Photo: A.C. Robinson/Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Erbil International Airport (EIA) may not be able to afford to remain operational after losing the majority of its traffic due to Baghdad’s flight ban.
Prior to the ban on international flights that came into force one week ago, Erbil’s airport was serving between 50 and 60 flights per day, some 5,000 to 5,500 passengers, bringing in an estimated daily revenue of $350,000.
Domestic flights are still operating.
Over the past week, the only flights in and out have been Iraqi Airways and military flights of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition, the airport’s General Director Talar Faeq told foreign diplomats at a meeting on Thursday, according to a statement published on the airport’s website.
With the flight ban, “not only did international flights stop – EIA’s income ground to a halt too,” she said.
The airport’s monthly expenses are around $2.3 million. Iraqi Airways, now the only carrier using the airport, “has not paid one dinar for the services they receive at EIA” since 2009, Faeq said, noting that the airline owes the airport $34 million.
Iraqi Airways is also in arrears for fuel and other fees, she noted.
The number of passengers traveling on Iraqi Airways has already dropped by half as both Kurdish and foreigners are hesitant to fly through Baghdad. “Many Kurds cannot travel to Baghdad – some are banned, others fear for their safety,” said Faeq.
As for foreign travelers, Baghdad has said that those in the country on a Kurdistan Region visa would be permitted to exit through the Iraqi capital without paying a fine or an exit fee. But it is unclear if those who depart through Baghdad will be able to return. Faeq accused Baghdad of wanting to “drain the international pool of experts and workers contributing to the Kurdistan region.”
She said the airport will continue to stay open, serving Iraqi Airways, for as long as possible, explaining “we do not wish to be seen as provocative, or to be accused of escalating matters – but as you can see, there are some very practical issues to be managed.”
Faeq told the diplomats that it was uncertain how long the airport could “maintain operational readiness under these circumstances.”
Baghdad imposed the flight ban after ordering Kurdish authorities to hand over control of Erbil and Sulaimani airports to federal authorities.
Faeq said it was unclear what Baghdad meant by “handing over” control and authorities in Iraq have not clarified the point. She noted that EIA has always operated under the supervision of Iraq Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA), abiding by their regulations.
Calling Baghdad’s actions an “abuse of power,” Faeq said they would remain calm and seek dialogue with the central government.
The flight ban is in effect until December 29, 2017, according to Baghdad’s notice imposing the restrictions.