Iraqi Airways have around 30 aircraft on order. The carrier sees enormous potential not only in religious traffic, but also in the huge numbers of Iraqi people living abroad. The carrier is also working hard to be removed from the EU flight ban list, which it has been on in June 2020 regarding safety concerns.
“Regarding our order, ten are Boeing 787-8. But we are also trying to convert few of them into the larger 787-9. As well 16 737 MAX 8 are on order. All of them we ordered five years ago.“Shabbir Ali Dharsi, Iraqi Airways Advisor to CEO
“We also have five Airbus A220-300 on order, one has been delivered this month already and a second follow also in November.“ Dharsi expects the first 787 should join the fleet in February or March 2022.
The majority of the new aircraft are for growth. One possibility could be the phase-out of the Bombardier CRJ fleet. “Our fleet will double and then we become a medium-size airline,“ he added.
Iraqi Airways operates currently 29 aircraft, a mix of Bombardier CRJ 900s, Airbus A320/A321/A330, Boeing 737-800, B777 and two B747-400. Two B767s have been phased out.
At this stage during the pandemic, 24 aircraft are in operation.
As safety in the capital Baghdad has improved and people have restarted to travel, a major challenge is to have employees with aviation experience in the country. There are no expats working at Iraqi Airways. “C-Checks for our aircraft are done in our facilities in Baghdad,“ he said.
“Iraqi Airways will transport close to two million passengers this year. Of which about 40% are on domestic routes. But we have a lot of potential in Iraq,“ he said.
Dharsi expecting enormous potential of religious traffic, as the network. should be increased. “70% of our business is religious traffic. Many of our passengers visiting the holy Iraqi city of Najaf“.
In terms of network, Iraqi Airways also operates in India, China and the Gulf Region. “We fly to six destinations in Turkey. For the coming winter schedule, Iraqi Airways plan to improve utilization by 40%, seven to eight destinations should be added, like in Pakistan,“ Dharsi said. "For example we are not flying to Africa at all, but we would have a lot of movement of religious traffic to and from Africa.“
A huge potential is the 10 to 15 million refugees from Iraq who have settled down in Europe or America. “These are the potential customer of ours. There are second-generation Iraqis all over the world. 60.000 to 70.000 are scattered in Canada, more than 100.000 in the US.“
Airline competition is already in Baghdad, like from Emirates, Qatar Airways or FlyDubai. There is also local competition existing. Two privately LCCs operating in Iraq, Fly Bagdad and Ur Airlines. “Ur Airlines is taking quite a bit of the domestic market,“ he said.
Moving out of the EU Blacklist
Regarding the EU blacklist, Dharsi said the carrier has done all the work which the EU has given to Iraqi Airways to clear the audit. “We completed about 80% of the benchmark now and we want to reach more than 90%. We need 95% to complete. We do everything that it is necessary and we are now ready.“
Iraqi Airways operates to five destinations in Europe, the number should double to ten once the ban is lifted.
“I would describe our service on board as fair, not very excellent. But we try to improve that segment and working very hard on it,“ he said.
Iraqi Airways sells 80% to 90% of the tickets via classical GDS streams, like GSA (General Sales Agents) or Travel Agents. Only five to seven percent will be booked online. A new agreement with Amadeus should increase the share of online bookings.