Gerald Butt/NICOSIA

Iraq says it has refurbished its international airports in Baghdad and Basra ready for what the government hopes will be a gradual return to normal services.

Since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, flights in and out of Iraq have been banned under United Nations (UN) sanctions. Aircraft of the national carrier, Iraqi Airways, have been grounded in Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Libya and Tunisia. Limited internal flights between Baghdad and Basra were suspended in the summer of 1992 when the USA and the UK imposed a no-fly zone in southern Iraq.

The UN Iraq Sanctions Committee has authorised a small number of flights in to and out of Baghdad - to ferry Muslim pilgrims to Mecca in Saudi Arabia and for humanitarian reasons.

Last April, an Italian aircraft flew into the Iraqi capital without UN authorisation and on 19 August a Russian transport carrying an official delegation from Moscow broke sanctions regulations in the same way. On 29 September, around 150 French celebrities plan to fly from Paris to Baghdad, despite strong opposition from the US and British governments.

Iraq is clearly jubilant that an aircraft from France - a permanent member of the UN Security Council - is planning to ignore the UN ban on flights and is counting on other states following suit.

At the same time, it is preparing for the day when its own airline can take to the skies again. According to Rabi Saleh, a director of Iraqi Airways, 24 pilots and 14 aviation technicians have just completed three-month training courses on Airbuses in Jordan and Malaysia. Other staff have undergone training in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Iraqi Airways was waiting to take delivery of five Airbus A310s when sanctions were imposed. The order remains on the Airbus books and Iraqi aviation officials say they still hope to receive the ordered aircraft. Iraqi Airways, which operates a small fleet of old Russian and US built aircraft, also has other plans to modernise its fleet and officials say they are in contact with another, unspecified company with a view to placing more orders for new passenger aircraft.

Source: Flight International