New weekly links to Sulaymaniyah and Erbil will be introduced by Iraqi Airways to Manchester by the end of the first quarter of this year, the airline has confirmed. The weekly flights will commence on March 15, 2015 with a Wednesday rotation to Erbil, the largest city and capital of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, and Sunday flight to Sulaymaniyah, a city in Southern Kurdistan.
The new flights from the Iraqi flag carrier will be the first non-stop scheduled links between Manchester and the country, although a previous charter series have linked the markets previously via a one-stop offering. Both routes will be flown using a new Boeing 737-800 configured with 162 seats.
“We are looking forward to working with everyone at Manchester Airport to offer passengers the opportunity to fly direct to Iraq,” said Saad Al-Khafaji general manager UK, Iraqi Airways. “With a strong Kurdish community across the region in the North and West Midlands, we are sure the route will prove to be popular.”
Iraqi Airways was founded in 1945 and is one of the oldest Middle Eastern carriers, but it continues to rebuild its global activities after years of conflict in its home market. The airline now operates a multi-type fleet including Airbus A320, A321 A330 and Boeing 737-800, 747, 767 and 777 equipment. It has an outstanding order for 34 new Boeing aircraft types for delivery by the end of 2017 when its fleet will grow to around 60 aircraft.
The Manchester flights will be the only non-stop services between Iraq and the UK as Iraqi Airways’ existing flights to London Gatwick from Baghdad, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah operate via Vienna on the way to the UK, albeit they do fly non-stop back to Iraq.
The airline made its return to the UK market in September 2013 with the return of links to Baghdad and Sulaymaniyah, while Erbil services were introduced from August 2014. It currently offers two flights per week on the routes between London and Baghdad and Sulaymaniyah and a weekly link from the UK capital to Erbil.
“Manchester is now the only airport outside of London to offer these routes with Iraqi Airways, and confirms the national role played by our airport. With Manchester already having two runways and a catchment area of 22 million people living with two hours of the airport, we have the capacity to support airlines that have ambition to grow in the UK,” said Ken O’Toole, chief commercial officer, Manchester Airports Group (MAG).
From next month Iraqi Airways will be operating seven flights per week across five city pairs between the UK and Iraq. According to MIDT data, over 60,000 bi-directional O&D passengers a year are currently flying between the two countries, a milestone that was achieved in both 2013 and 2014.
The Iraqi Airways passenger totals do not currently appear in the IATA billing and Settlement Plan data, but according to the UK Civil Aviation Authority, the carrier handled around 25,000 passengers across its routes from London Gatwick during 2013 and 2014. Alongside the direct flights a large proportion of passengers are connecting with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul, although there are also notable flows via Dubai with Emirates Airline and Amman with Royal Jordanian.