Fight or Flight: Iraq's Aviation Renaissance
January 14, 2014
March 19 of 2013 was a deadly day for Iraq, with around 60 people killed and over 150 others injured around the country. Yet the very next day, Baghdad International Airport logged 125 incoming and outgoing flights—the highest total in memory. Even as violence escalates in Iraq, business is booming.
The Iraqi government has made the revival of commercial aviation a major component of its economic strategy, and the government plans to double the size of Baghdad Airport to handle 15 million passengers per year. Iraqi Airways began direct flights to London, Moscow, and Kuala Lumpur in 2013, and the government announced in October that it would begin flights from Baghdad to Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai. Direct flights to Azerbaijan, Tunisia, and Morocco are also in the works. Last February, for the first time since the Gulf War, flights took off from Baghdad to Kuwait.
Iraqi Kurdistan has welcomed similar efforts to encourage cross-country investment and tourism, including a direct Erbil-Tbilisi flight launched in March 2013. As many Iraqis were on that flight as visited Georgia in all of 2010. Facilitating travel is intended both to draw investors in infrastructure and other sectors, and to allow Iraqis with disposable income wider business and vacation opportunities.
Five years ago, flights followed a corkscrew path to land at Baghdad Airport in order to avoid shoulder-fired missiles. Investors still need to be comfortable with risk to invest in Iraq, but the amount of physical risk entailed seems clearly to have declined.
This piece is a part of Mezze, a monthly short article series spotlighting societal trends across the region. It originally appeared in the Middle East Program's monthly newsletter, Middle East Notes and Comment. For more information and to receive our mailings, please contact the Middle East Program.