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Iraqi start-up outlines plans to expand network and fleet

Ishtar Airlines in talks for additional aircraft as it prepares to add new destinations

Privately-owned Iraqi start-up Ishtar Airlines aims to expand its fledgling operation to other destinations in Europe and the Middle East, having started serving the Baghdad–Dubai route.

Ishtar Airlines was founded by a group of former Iraqi Airways pilots who are unconvinced that the attempt to resurrect the flag-carrier will succeed. The airline is wholly-owned by private Iraqi individuals and operates a Boeing 737 leased from a United Arab Emirates company.

But Ishtar Airlines vice-president Capt Ramsey Shaban, the former vice-president and chief pilot of Iraqi Airways, tells Flight International that the company is in talks with Boeing to take additional aircraft.

"We're looking for something slightly bigger [than the 737] with greater range," he says.

Ishtar Airlines is effectively acting as a scheduled charter carrier, and has links with travel companies such as Atlas Travel and Tourism in Baghdad. The Dubai–Baghdad route is flown twice-weekly, but the airline wants to increase frequency, claiming that it is achieving satisfactory load factors. The carrier is seeking to open new routes from the Iraqi cities of Erbil and Basra to Dubai, as well as from Baghdad to European destinations such as London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Stockholm. Ultimately, it also wants to serve the USA.

"We've applied to Erbil where they've recently upgraded the runway," says Shaban. "We'd like to start serving Basra, but the airport is not yet certified; we expect that in June."

He says the company employs around 20 personnel including several Iraqi Airways pilots. He believes that, while the effort to restore Iraqi Airways is commendable, there are many potential legal and financial issues involved and that it is "better to start from scratch".

Ishtar Airlines is planning to acquire its own air operator's certificate (AOC) but says that it is a difficult process. Shaban says the civil aviation authority – which previously only had to deal with Iraqi Airways – is still "not really there" in terms of having the capacity to issue an AOC.

DAVID KAMINSKI-MORROW/LONDON

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