Gateway to a new future for Iraq
Iraqi Government forces are steadily pushing back against Daesh insurgents with the extremists now holding around 15% of the country, roughly one-third of the territory they did two years ago. Behind the military headlines, reports Alan Dron, young air operators, such as Iraq Gate, are seeking to maintain vital transport services in the country.
With large swathes of the country still in the grip of civil war, it may not seem the ideal time to think about setting up a scheduled airline service in Iraq. However, Iraq Gate believes that the country’s business fundamentals could be sufficiently sound to make the venture worthwhile.
Iraq Gate was set up in 2013 as the first executive charter company in the troubled nation. Created by executive aircraft operator Arab Wings, from neighbouring Jordan, as a joint venture, it operates under an Iraqi air operator’s certificate (AOC) and now has six aircraft on the Iraqi register – three Bombardier CRJ200s, two Hawker 800XP mid-size executive jets and a Beechcraft King Air 200 turboprop.
Arab Wings has seconded some staff to Iraq Gate to get the young operation off the ground and has appointed others within the country.
But why did Arab Wings, a well-established business jet operator, aircraft management and handling company, decide at the height of unrest in the country that it was a good time to set up shop in Baghdad?
“Although the [security] situation is not as we would like it to be, there is a demand for charter and business aircraft operations there,” explained Sameer Hdairis, Arab Wings’ business development manager.
“There are a lot of people who need travel in and out of Iraq, plus there are oil and gas companies present there who need transport for their own staff, both to other countries and within Iraq itself.”
It is the oil and gas sector that provides much of the work for the CRJ200s, which most people would regard as unusually large aircraft for this type of charter work. The aircraft, which formerly operated with Spanish regional carrier Air Nostrum, are still in their 50-seater airline configuration. The first began service in Iraq in March 2015, with two other aircraft following later that year.
“Oil and gas companies do move a lot of people around and these aircraft suit their requirements,” said Hdairis. It is not unusual for these companies to fly groups of 30 or 40 personnel at a time. Government personnel make up another significant share of Iraq Gate’s market.
“We would like to enhance the operation and extend it to scheduled, or other types of services. We would like to grow,” he added.
At present, the market “has its ups and downs, but it’s going”, said Hdairis. The security situation in Iraq obviously required careful watching on a daily basis, he added.
Any military activity in an area into which the company was due to fly required careful briefing for the crews and extra efforts in terms of security planning. Crews were kept at the airport for security reasons.
Iraq Gate and Arab Wings have put in place a higher level of protocols and audits. This has gained them ‘approved’ status from several major oil and gas companies that allows them to transport the companies’ personnel.
Meanwhile, back in Amman with Arab Wings, “business is going well”, said Hdairis, despite the relative austerity in many parts of the region brought about by the slump in oil prices over the past couple of years. “We continue our operations. Of course, there are difficult times in terms of lower demand than usual.”
The diversified nature of Arab Wings’ business helps here. As well as flying executives and government officials around the region and beyond, the company has a portfolio of services, including aircraft management, ad hoc charters, its own handling and maintenance facility and even air ambulance flights.