Airlines around the world are preparing to reopen scheduled services to Baghdad as soon as their governments will allow it.

In Europe, British Airways is preparing to restart services to Baghdad International Airport (formerly Saddam International), which have been suspended since 1990. Chief executive Rod Eddington says he plans to operate three Boeing 767 services a week "as soon as political stability and security return".

Virgin Atlantic chairman Sir Richard Branson says Virgin will operate relief flights, to be followed by a scheduled service. Air France and Lufthansa say they have no plans to operate to Baghdad at the moment.

Gulf Air says that "final preparations are under way" to start services, initially carrying humanitarian aid. Its local rivals - Dubai-based Emirates and Qatar Airways - are also understood to be evaluating flights to the Iraqi capital.

Two US carriers, North American Airlines and World Airways, are also applying to the Department of Transportation for permission to serve Baghdad. World plans to operate three scheduled passenger and cargo services from Washington Dulles via Geneva, while North American wants to operate scheduled flights from New York Kennedy via Geneva. The carrier also wants to serve Afghanistan and Kuwait via Geneva.

A presidential executive order lifting the US ban would be required before any US carrier could serve Iraq. "We are not aware of any imminent plans when or if an executive order will be coming," says the DoT.

UN sanctions, imposed after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, banned all commercial flights to or from Iraq, but after Saddam Inter-national reopened in August 2000, sanctions-busting flights arrived from France, Russia and a number of Middle Eastern and North African states.

Source: Flight International