Machines Were Flown Away For Safekeeping -- In 1991
By Aero-News Senior Correspondent Kevin R.C. 'Hognose'
The Iraqi newspaper Al-Sabah is
reporting that Iraqi Airways may be close to getting its impounded
jets back, according to popular Iraqi blog, Iraq The Model.
Meanwhile, Arabic news channel Al-Jazeera reports that the airline
flew its first domestic flight June 1st -- from Baghdad to Basra,
reopening a route that has been closed for fourteen years.
In the newspaper, the Iraqi Minister of Transport expressed
optimism about the return of the seized planes, which have been
held in neighboring countries since the Gulf War.
Iran holds the most aircraft, because it was a preferred
destination for aircraft flown to safety, but Kuwait also holds
Iraqi civil aircraft that were caught on the ground by the
lightning coalition invasion of 1991. That is
complicated by the unpleasant fact that when the Iraqis invaded
Kuwait, among the spoils they seized were at least 15 Kuwaiti
aircraft, not all of which were recovered by the Kuwaitis postwar.
These machines have been the subject of an ICAO resolution,
In addition, a few planes are held by Jordan and Tunisia. (The
photo, by Emirates pilot Brian McMorrow and used with his
permission, shows the fleet of Iraqi 727s currently mothballed in
Amman, Jordan. Before the Gulf War, Iraqi Airways operated a mix of
Antonov cargo and Boeing passenger types. From 1991 to 2003 it was
reduced to skeleton-crew status, and it lost further aircraft in
the 2003 war, destroyed on the ground in the "shock and awe"
But now, things are looking up. "The minister explained that
Iran has promised to release the aircrafts soon, while there are
some positive signs of a similar resolution coming from the Kuwaiti
authorities," blogger Omar al-Fadhil wrote.
The return of the aircraft, 16 in all, has been forecast before
(as long ago as 2003). Jordan and Tunisia in particular neither
used nor completely neglected the planes, allowing Iraqi mechanics
to keep up some of their regular maintenance, in the expectation
that Iraqi would soon be back in business. Iran, on the other hand,
painted Iranian registration numbers on the planes it had and
co-opted them into its own state airline. What has changed recently
is the Iranian government's need for a gesture to back its claims
that it is not supporting insurgents and terrorists in Iraq.
One small sign of the resurgence of the airline, which started
flying with Dragon Rapide biplanes after World War II, is the
resumption of domestic flights. Today (1 June) the first regularly
scheduled Baghdad-Basra flight took place. Unlike the symbolic
flight from Baghdad to Amman last September, this flight carried
passengers. The 737-200 used today is not state of the art, but
airline officials are overjoyed to be flying at all. (At least two
airplanes in use by Iraqi, a 727 and a 737, are newly purchased
used planes). During a period of over ten years, they were grounded
by lack of planes, UN sanctions, and Coalition-enforced "no-fly"
zones, the rules of which forbade passage to airliners but
permitted Saddam's Hind helicopters to do their deadly work.
The organization survived by turning its overseas offices into
business centers and hired out its skilled mechanics to other
Arabic nations, airline official Isaac Esho told Al-Jazeera.
Iraqi Airways has been slow to recover from its doldrums, partly
because of the missing aircraft, but also because of the lack of
current aircrew and the uncertain security situation. A return of
impounded Iraqi planes from Iran and Kuwait would go a long way to
allowing the white and green planes to resume a complete, normal
schedule on domestic and international routes. But Esho fears that
the planes have not been maintained well enough to be put into
service immediately. Iraqi Airways plans to send out teams of
inspectors and mechanics to assess and repair these machines, and
Iraqi politicians have appealed to Western and Muslim nations alike
Few westerners had heard of the fly-out of civil airliners in
1991, but most have heard of the flight of military aircraft, which
took place after a brief attempt to resist Coalition airpower.
While the Iraqis are likely to get their airliners back, the combat
jets are a different story. The planes which fled to Iran were
incorporated in the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF). For
example, the Iranian Mirage F-1s at Mashhad near the Turkmen border
and many of the Su-24MKs based around the country are ex-Iraqi
Returning to Iraqi Airways, the flag carrier faces problems that
make the plight of, say, America West, United or Delta seem
relatively benign. But they have one advantage that the struggling
American airlines can only envy: fuel prices in Iraq, while wildly
unstable, are normally well under a dollar a gallon.