Presently, the major air carriers that fly into Iraq are:
* Austrian Airlines, from Vienna to Erbil
* Bahrain Air, from Bahrain to Baghdad
* Gulf Air, from Bahrain to Erbil and Baghdad
* Gryphon Airlines, from Kuwait to Baghdad, Basra and Erbil
* Iraqi Airways
* Middle East Airlines, from Beirut to Erbil and Baghdad
* Royal Jordanian, from Amman to Erbil, Basra, and Baghdad
* Turkish Airlines, from Istabul to Basra and Baghdad
However, no non-charter airlines fly directly between Iraq and the UAE (Dubai and Abu Dhabi), the true international hub of the Middle East. When I flew to Iraq last weekend, I flew through Bahrain. But things are about to change:
Etihad Airways will become the first UAE carrier to fly direct to Iraq [from Abu Dhabi], from April 26, pending regulatory approval.
Iraq is experiencing a surge in air travel fuelled by the international reconstruction efforts, its large population and a recovering economy. Etihad and other carriers want to take advantage of growing demand as Iraq Airways, the nation’s flag carrier, has been slow to expand its services after decades of neglect.
Etihad has been operating cargo flights to Iraq since 2008 and intends to operate five flights a week to Baghdad. It also plans to serve Erbil, in the northern Kurdish region, twice a week starting on June 1. Etihad will employ single-aisle Airbus A320s on both routes.
Things are changing. Lufthansa will return to Iraq after 20 years this summer, flying between Erbil and major European airport hub Frankfurt. Flydubai, the Dubai-based discount carrier, wants to fly direct between Dubai and Baghdad and Erbil. And Emirates, despite having no comment, is rumored to be investigating flights into the region.