Palestine Airlines back to skies with statehood goal
MARKA AIRBASE, Jordan
A Palestinian Airlines flight takes off from Marka Airbase to El-Arish, Egypt, in Amman. Palestinian Airlines is back in the skies after being grounded for seven years. AP photo
Palestinian Airlines is back in the skies after being grounded for seven years by deepening enmities in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Regional director of the airline said this is part of the independent state.
On May 9, Palestinian Airlines, grounded since 2005, resumed operations, starting with biweekly flights between El-Arish and Marka Airbase in the Jordanian capital of Amman. The new route means residents of Gaza no longer have to travel to Cairo, some 350 kilometers away, to board flights. El-Arish is an Egyptian coastal resort in northern Sinai, about 60 kilometers from Gaza.
Plans for Turkey
“We have started with flights from Amman to El-Arish and from El-Arish to Amman,” Palestinian Airlines Director-General Zeyad Albad told Agence France-Presse. “We are going to have flights from El-Arish to Jeddah [Saudi Arabia] soon, and we are trying to set up some new routes to Turkey and the [United Arab] Emirates.”
The airline hopes it will eventually turn a profit, but for now national pride and making life easier for the Gazans are more important, said regional director Azmi Samaan.
“We want the Palestinian flag to continue flying,” he said in an interview at Marka Airbase, according to the Associated Press. “This is part of the independent state, to have an airline, no matter what it will cost us.”
The carrier is a tiny operation, with just two 48-seat turboprop planes, two weekly flights and a borrowed hub in Egypt. The 15-year-old airline’s fortunes have been closely tied to the quest for a Palestinian state. In the late 1990s, when Palestine appeared to be on the verge of a statehood deal with Israel, Palestinian Airlines operated from Gaza International Airport, flying tens of thousands of passengers a year to Middle Eastern destinations, and had plans to expand to Europe.
But the airline was forced to suspend operations from Gaza after Israel imposed restrictions on the airport and then rendered it unusable by tearing up its runways and bombing it in 2001, and Palestinian Airlines was forced to move its base to El-Arish. Seven years ago, the airline stopped flying altogether after its reservoir of passengers dried up.
After the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the Rafah border terminal with Gaza gradually reopened and Gazans are now able to travel, although with restrictions.