ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The first direct flights from a Dutch airport in Eindhoven, operated by Freebird Airlines, arrived in the Kurdistan Region capital of Erbil on Sunday, and in Sulaimani on Monday.
During a press conference on Monday after the arrival of the first plane, Sulaimani International Airport Director Tahir Abdullah underscored positive ties between the Netherlands and the Kurdistan Region.
“This is the first airline that starts from Eindhoven, Netherlands,” he said. “Netherlands is an important country for the Kurdistan Region.”
“For a long time, there were no flights between the Netherlands and Sulaimani airport,” Abdullah added. “We hope flights come more often.”
Freebird is not entirely new to Eindhoven Airport, having operated flights to Turkey in 2000. The Turkish company based in Malta has a fleet of seven Airbuses and carries a million passengers annually to 170 destinations in 26 countries in Europe and the Middle East.
During the press conference in Sulaimani, Dutch Consul General in the Kurdistan Region, Willem Cosijn, said the direct flights could benefit both country’s economies.
“We are very much working on trade relations between the [Kurdistan Region] and the Netherlands,” Cosijn stated.
“We do it together with great cooperation of the [Sulaimani] governor and all other people in the region that are very keen to work together with us.”
Baghdad imposed a flight embargo that lasted for months on both Erbil and Sulaimani airports in the Kurdistan Region on Sept. 29, 2017, days after the historic Kurdish independence referendum which saw an overwhelming majority favoring statehood.
Erbil’s flight ban was lifted in March 2018, but the blockade continued for Sulaimani.
Turkey’s continued embargo was based on allegations that both Gorran (Change) Movement and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) – whose strongholds are in the Sulaimani province – aid the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Kurdish group fighting for broader rights in Turkey. Both parties denied the allegations.
After a crackdown on PKK-affiliated party offices by the PUK’s security police,commercial flights from the Kurdistan Region’s Sulaimani International Airport to Turkey resumed in January after over a year of an additional embargo by Ankara.
“Opening up an airport is extremely important and, therefore, this is a great day for the region, a great day for Sulaimani, and it’s a very good day for the Netherlands as well,” the Dutch consul said.
After the Turkish airspace was opened for Sulaimani, “all doors are open for the Sulaimani airport,” Abdullah said. “We are now in a new phase for the growth of the economy for easier flights from Sulaimani to Europe.”
“Sulaimani airport is one of the most important airports for Iraq, and foreign countries,” he added. “We are ready to make new contacts and start new flights from Iraq and abroad, for both passenger and cargo flights.”
Rawa Faraj, the Managing Director at Travus Company for Travel & Technology Ltd, told Kurdistan 24 that after the first flights arrived in Sulaimani and Erbil from Eindhoven, there are also plans to launch direct flights to Cologne, Germany.
“We start with one flight per week, but the whole plan is to increase those flights to four per week, and we will open a new destination to Europe,” he explained.
Faraj said the flights from Eindhoven Airport are scheduled to depart once a week from April to October, noting an updated schedule would be available in the winter.
Tickets can be bought through travel agencies, and bookings will be available online in the future.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany