Transport Airports

Can a New Airport Help Iraq Revive its Tourism Industry?

Aug 26, 2013 1:00 am

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Iraq’s stability is an essential part of a Middle East that works, and its optimism in the face of what would lead others to be decidedly un-optimistic is inspiring.

— Jason Clampet

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Iraq plans to construct a new central airport and is continuing a fleet expansion with the possible addition of Bombardier Inc.’s CSeries as the war-torn country seeks to revive its travel industry and lure tourists.

The government will unveil a list of contractors next week it will ask to bid for construction of the airport in Karbala south of Baghdad, Nasser Hussein, director general of Iraq’s civil aviation authority, said in an interview in Baghdad. At a cost of $2.5 billion, the new hub would be the country’s biggest, with capacity of 20 million passengers a year, he said.

Iraq, home to the world’s fifth-largest crude reserves, is revamping its civil aviation infrastructure after decades of armed conflict, sanctions and neglect left airports and the national fleet in decay. Iraqi Airways has already ordered eight planes from Airbus SAS, as well as 39 Boeing Inc. airliners that include the cutting-edge 787 Dreamliner.

“This airport will be the biggest in Iraq with a capacity set to reach 20 million passengers a year,” and the national fleet will more than triple to 65 planes by 2016, Hussein said.

Iraqi Airways said last year it planned to halt an order to buy regional jets from Bombardier in favor of larger planes. The carrier is now talks with the Canadian manufacturer for a $200 million order of five CSeries-100 planes due for delivery by 2016 once a contract is signed, Hussein said.

Struggling Aircraft

Bombardier’s CSeries has struggled to pick up momentum with buyers in a market for single-aisle airliners dominated by Airbus and Boeing. The Montreal-based company said this month it’s still not certain on the date for the maiden takeoff of its largest-ever plane, after three delays since November.

Hussein declined to disclose the names of companies that are in the final running for the new airport, saying only they are of U.S., German, Turkish, Italian and United Arab Emirates origin. Iraq now has six civilian airports in Baghdad, Basra, Najaf, Mosul and in the Kurdish semi-autonomous regions of Sleimaniya and Erbil.

The four major airports under the central government’s control have total capacity of seven million passengers, with 2.5 million flying through Baghdad, 2.5 million in Basra, one million in Najaf and one million in Mosul, Hussein said. One of the terminals at Baghdad airport is in use, with three others undergoing rehabilitation, Hussein said. The hub would be able to accommodate 9 million travelers by the end of 2013, he said.

New Routes

Apart from Karbala, a $600 million new airport is under construction in the Kurdish region of Duhok, with capacity of one million passengers due to be completed in 2014, he said. Flight movements across Iraq have increased to 17,000 a month from 15,000 flights two years ago, Hussein said. Iran tops the list of flights to Iraq with 100 a week, followed by the U.A.E. and Turkey with 62 flights each, and Jordan with 36 flights.

Most visitors travel to Iraq for religious occasions, mainly to Shiite Muslim sites in Karbala and Najaf. Pilgrims mostly come from Iran, Pakistan, India, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and European countries. To revive flight routes, the country has signed several bilateral aviation agreements, with an accord with the U.S. slated for next week, followed by Russia, China, France and Malaysia, Hussein said.

With assistance from Nayla Razzouk in Dubai. Editors: Benedikt Kammel, Robert Valpuesta. To contact the reporters on this story: Khalid Al-Ansary in Baghdad at kalansary@bloomberg.net; Deena Kamel Yousef in Dubai at dhussein1@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at bkammel@bloomberg.net; Stephen Voss at sev@bloomberg.net. 

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