Iraqi back on its fleet

Tom Batchelor discovers that Iraqi Airways is very firmly back in business.


Iraqi Airways is the first airline to operate the Airbus A220 in the Middle East region. PICTURE: Airbus

Iraqi Airways has entered a new chapter in 2023 as it embarks on a comprehensive fleet renewal programme across both its narrow- and wide-body fleets.

The carrier took delivery of its fifth and final Airbus A220-300 aircraft in August of this year, having placed the order for what was then the Bombardier CSeries aircraft a decade earlier.

The type is being operated by the Baghdad-based flag carrier with a dual-class cabin that seats 132 passengers; 12 in business class and 120 in economy class. In June, Iraqi Airways took delivery of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner – the first of 10 787s on order.

That widebody arrival follows delivery of new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, four of which have been supplied to the carrier since February out of a total order of 16. An order for 10 Boeing B737-10 aircraft is also expected to be fulfilled between 2024 and 2027.

Manaf Abdel-Monem, director general of Iraqi Airways, said the deliveries would help the airline respond as “domestic and international air traffic gains momentum”.

He said: “It’s crucial that our Iraqi Airways fleet matches growing demand with more efficient, capable and comfortable aircraft. The 787 and 737 MAX aircraft we have received are key to our fleet renewal programme, which aims to ensure we can fly our passengers around the world in the safety and comfort they expect from a modern and efficient airline."

The carrier has had a stop-start existence in recent decades owing to protracted regional geo-political instability and a 2015 European Union ban on flights, which was imposed after it failed to secure a third country operators certificate (TCO) from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

Reports at the time said TCO inspections had unearthed safety violations by the airline and the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority. Iraq’s president, Abdul Latif Jamal Rashid, is leading efforts to have the ban overturned. The operator was also forced to suspend services to the UK and Sweden in 2009 after it feared having its aircraft seized in the wake of a court ruling in favour of Kuwait and against Iraqi Airways that included the freezing of its assets worldwide. More recently, it has used a leased aircraft to operate flights from Baghdad and Erbil to Frankfurt and Berlin. 

Now, the airline is on an upward trajectory, having put a marker in the sand with its impressive fleet modernisation plan. Iraqi Airways became the first airline to operate the Airbus A220 in the Middle East, with commercial flight operations commencing on November 6, 2022, from Baghdad to Cairo. The narrow-body has since been used on a range of domestic and international routes including Baghdad to Amman, Beirut, Basra and Erbil.

At the same time, Iraqi Airways is dispensing with older aircraft, some of which have been hampered by ongoing maintenance issues. Notably, over the summer the carrier announced it was auctioning off two Boeing jumbos: a B747-200CM and a B747SP; a rare, shortened, ‘special performance’ version of the airliner that was designed for a longer range. The pair are said to have been parked at a base in Tunisia since 1991.

With the fleet modernisation project well under way, Abdel-Monem said the new aircraft were part of a wider plan to “increase the number of destinations of the national carrier, in line with government directives to open up to various countries of the world”.

Baghdad is already connected to more than 50 destinations, but this figure is expected to grow as Iraq sees increased stability and economic growth (the country’s annual gross domestic product growth rate is expected to reach seven per cent by the end of 2023). The latest addition to the route network over the summer was Tbilisi in Georgia and Abdel-Monem hopes to expand further east with Muscat, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur in his sights.

With global air traffic rebounding, Middle Eastern airlines are seeing more than a 40 per cent traffic increase compared to last year, and Iraqi Airways is making sure it can respond to this surge in demand.