Iraq’s only Kurdish airline takes off with Europe flight

Iraq’s only Kurdish airline takes off with Europe flight

ARBIL-Agence France-Presse
Iraq’s only Kurdish airline takes off with Europe flight

Iraq’s only Kurdish airline launched on June 18 with a flight to Sweden, after years of delays owing to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) offensive in the country.

Officials hope Fly Erbil’s take-off is a sign of changing fortunes in the autonomous region, which has suffered from the jihadists onslaught and a failed independence bid.

“ISIL delayed our project but today, we mark real progress,” said the airline’s chief executive, Laund Sheikh Mamundi, explaining the three-year delay since Fly Erbil first announced its launch.

The airline currently has three planes and hopes to increase its fleet to 10, administrative director Ahmad Jamal told AFP.

The company advertises flights to five European countries including Germany and the U.K., targeting destinations with large Iraqi communities and investors who operate in Iraq, Jamal said.

Dressed in a navy blue uniform with golden buttons to match the airline’s logo, flight attendant Nisrine Rachid was thrilled the crew would be working in the Kurdish language.

“I think that makes them happy and we are delighted to serve them in Kurdish,” she said, ahead of the Boeing jet departing from Arbil airport.

Iraqi Kurdistan benefitted from an economic boom after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, while the rest of the country descended into violence.

But the lightning offensive of ISIL in 2014 -- with the jihadists coming to within around 40 kilometers (25 miles) of Arbil -- led to a significant fall in investments.

According to a 2015 World Bank study, the economy of Iraqi Kurdistan was hit by the influx of people fleeing violence from within Iraq and Syria.

The region’s poverty rate more than doubled from 3.5 percent to 8.1 percent, the World Bank said.