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Sat, Jun 18, 2005

Basrah International Airport Opens to Commercial Flights

After almost 20 years of sporadic flying and finally being grounded, the first Iraqi Airways flight landed at Basrah International Airport June 4 with the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region South.

The Corps' goal is to give the Iraqis a functioning civil aviation airport that will allow planes with passengers to land and take off, both domestically and internationally, according to Robert Vanoer, resident engineer for the Basrah Resident Office, Gulf Region District South (GRS).

"The details the Corps is involved in are critical to the airport," said Vanoer. "The big piece is to ensure the terminal has air conditioning. Another big piece is the air control tower, which is 12 stories high and has no elevator. The British Army uses it for their physical training. There are other things that are in the works, such as the rehabilitation of the water treatment plant, which is critical to the chillers (air conditioning)."

The chillers need processed water, which is ultra clean, to run smoothly, according to Dan Drew, Project and Contracting Office (PCO) project manager for the airport project.

"These chillers weigh 1700 tons," said Drew, "and they feed a chilled water system in underground tunnels through the whole airport. One of the reasons they failed is because the water from the water treatment plant had scale in it - metallic particles - that ended up settling and clogging a lot of tubes and small orifices in the chiller units."

Drew said the water is also needed for fire protection, and that this water comes from a reservoir from the water treatment plant. Originally built in 1986, the plant, like many of the airport's facilities was never maintained and now needs refurbishment. "The airport was like a small city - self contained," he said. "So when one component failed, a lot of the systems were affected."

The next project, the second largest at the airport, involves the installation of Navigational and Visual Aids, according to Drew. The Navigational Aids contract, $28 million, was awarded to Raytheon and negotiations are continuing. The airport's radar equipment falls under this contract and the airport cannot receive International Civil Aviation Organization certification without it.

"Raytheon is the sole proprietor of this radar equipment," said Drew. "This will allow the airport to track all weather operations, such as fog and sandstorms. The Visual Aids are things like runway markings and lighting."

The Corps does the quality assurance and is overseeing the work being done, according to Vanoer. He said that once the prime contractor, Nana Pacific, Inc., hired its subcontractor, Carrier Corporation, a big air conditioning and ventilation manufacturer, whose agents are authorized in Baghdad, things began to roll.

"These people worked diligently and pulled double shifts," said Vanoer. "Right now they are waiting on parts, and when those parts come in, I have no doubt they'll finish the chillers on time, by July 2005."

Vanoer said parts of the original contracts are on schedule and that Iraqi Airways began flying after pressure from the ministry of transportation. They installed a split system air conditioner to provide some cool air and passengers are shuttled to the terminal from Baghdad. "I modified a contract to energize the departure and domestic ticket desk," he said. "And I had the baggage scales recalibrated. Now passengers can get their baggage and it is quite something to see."

Mr. Razek, airport director for 15 years, said he is excited about the changes and the fact that flights are now coming in and out of Basrah International Airport. "We have three flights a week, two each day," he said. "We fly from Basrah to Baghdad and then to Amman, Jordan and back. The flights are on Saturday, Monday and Wednesdays. People buy their tickets in downtown Basrah and are shuttled here to the airport."

There was one recent incident, he recalled, where a sandstorm forced the closing of Baghdad International Airport for two days. "A flight from Jordan flew directly here," he said. "We are the alternate airport for Baghdad and are truly now international. We look forward to having the entire airport back and to many more flights which will be cheaper for people. Right now, tickets are $75 to Baghdad, but we are looking for ways to bring the cost down. It is a very exciting time for us here in Basrah."



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