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  • From our correspondent in Iraq: Kurdistan's new Erbil airport, with 5km runway, aims for regional hub role

From our correspondent in Iraq: Kurdistan's new Erbil airport, with 5km runway, aims for regional hub role

Iraq’s northern region of Kurdistan is expecting to open a new $300 million international airport next year which the local government believes will be essential to attracting business to the area.

While the Iraqi capital Baghdad remains highly volatile, the northern Kurdistan province’s primary city Erbil has been relatively stable – although it suffered a twin suicide bombing three years ago which killed scores of people including several high-ranking political figures, and another devastating bomb attack 15 months later.

The present airport, formerly a military base from which the Iraqi air force launched attacks on Kurdish population, is a simple structure with few facilities. It has a 1,500m2 (16,100ft2) terminal and two aprons with eight remote aircraft stands, plus a 2,800m (9,190ft) runway equipped with instrument landing systems.

This runway, designated 15/33, is set to become a taxiway when the new airport becomes operational in 2008. Erbil international airport’s new runway 18/36 will be one of the longest in the world at 4,800m

“Capabilities at the existing airport are limited,” says the airport’s general director, Taher Horami, speaking to Flight in Erbil during an event marking Austrian Airlines’ recent opening of a route to the city.

“The new extension, new terminal and runway will make it easier for other airlines to start operating.”

Horami says the runway’s length will ensure that the airport will be able to accept any aircraft type in the future, and adds that he wants to see Erbil compete with cities such as Dubai as a stop for traffic between Europe and Asia.

Some ten passenger airlines – including Royal Jordanian Airlines, Iraqi Airways, Mahan Air, Flying Carpet, Viking Airlines and Kurdistan Airlines – plus around six freight carriers serve the present airport, which opened in April 2005 and handled nearly 164,000 passengers last year.

Its new terminal, which will ultimately be a T-shaped design, is presently little more than a framework but will be able to cope with 2.75 million passengers. UK infrastructure consultancy firm Scott Wilson has designed the building while construction is being performed by Turkish company Mak-Yol. Funding is being sourced entirely from the Kurdistan regional government.

The airport will have six gates equipped with airbridges plus 16 remote stands, as well as 22 check-in desks.

Erbil will also have a 36m control tower and air traffic management facilities to handle flights in northern Iraqi airspace. Air traffic controllers will be trained both in the Jordanian capital Amman and at the Swedish civil aviation administration’s centre in Malmo.

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