Rudaw video shows a Flynas passenger plane landed at Erbil International Airport on March 19, 2018.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – After Baghdad lifted the ban on international flights to and from the Kurdistan Region, a Saudi passenger plane landed at Erbil airport on Monday and is expected to return carrying a number of Umrah pilgrims.
Erbil governor Nawzad Hadi told Rudaw the first flight since the lifting of the ban on Erbil airport took place on Monday. The Flynas airline flight came from Jeddah.
According to Hadi, four flights will now take place each week from Jeddah to Erbil and vice versa.
Hadi said Umrah pilgrims, tourists, businessmen and companies will all benefit from the resumption of direct flights to Saudi Arabia.
The first Umrah flights left Sulaimani and took off from Erbil on March 8 after Iraq decided to partially lift the ban by exempting Muslims who want to perform the non-mandatory Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. This was on the condition they book their flights with state-owned Iraqi Airways, increasing the cost of the trip by $200 per person, a Kurdish official claimed at the time.
Nabaz Ismail, spokesperson for the KRG’s religious affairs ministry, told Rudaw English on Monday that as per their agreement with the Iraqi government, Kurdish pilgrims have been using Iraqi Airways.
The group of Umrah pilgrims who will be travelling to Saudi Arabia today will now be using the private Flynas airline, he added.
Before the flight ban, pilgrims expected to pay $700 for their journey. Under the ban, this increased to $900, as Baghdad claimed passengers required two transits.
Ismail has previously accused Baghdad of manipulating the market in favor of Iraqi Airways by excluding all other airlines.
Around 4,000 people in the Kurdistan Region have registered to visit Mecca for Umrah since the Iraqi government resumed direct flights for religious reasons, according to official figures.
Flights with flydubai will also resume on Monday. The airline’s first a passenger plane will land in Erbil around 4pm with 100 onboard and will return to the UAE the same day with 164 passengers.