ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The imports and exports through the Kurdistan Region’s Sulaimani International Airport had largely decreased in 2018, the airport head said on Tuesday, pointing to the Turkish flight ban as the main cause.
“The Turkish flight ban has damaged Sulaimani airport’s revenue by $5.4 million over the past year,” Tahir Abdullah, the Director of Sulaimani Airport, said in a press conference.
In late September 2017, the Iraqi federal government imposed an international flight ban on the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region’s airports for five months days after Kurdistan’s independence referendum on Sept. 25, which saw a landslide majority favor statehood.
Baghdad decided to remove the flight ban on the region’s airports on March 15, 2018, leading to weeks and even months before airlines resumed their flights.
“Iranian airlines resumed flights to Sulaimani Airport on June 15, but the Turkish ones, until now, remain halted,” Abdullah said, noting that people in the province and surrounding areas have suffered difficulties and a considerable loss of income due to the Turkish flight ban
In March 2018, Ankara decided to resume flights to the capital of Erbil but did not include Sulaimani and its airport. Weeks ago, Turkey extended the flight ban on Sulaimani airport until March 24.
Turkish officials, including Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, accused both the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Gorran (Change) – whose strongholds are in the Sulaimani province – of aiding the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Kurdish group fighting for broader rights in Turkey which Ankara, the United States, and the European Union have designated a “terrorist” organization.
Abdullah stated that flights in 2018 decreased by 36 percent compared to the previous year.
According to him, imports through Sulaimani’s airport in 2018 dropped by 73 percent, and export by 82 percent.
“The Iraqi government is responsible for the halts of the [Turkish] flights on Sulaimani airports and its resolution,” Abdullah stressed.
“Due to the Turkish flight ban, Sulaimani airport loses $15,000 every day,” he continued, adding the airport lost $5.4 million due to the halt of the flights, mostly due to the Turkish flight ban.
Regarding the airport’s revenue last year, Abdullah noted that it was $4.2 million.
The Kurdistan Region has two airports, one located in the capital Erbil and the other in Sulaimani. The Kurdish government also plans to create a third one in the province of Duhok, but construction has not yet begun.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany