Interview: Erbil International Airport has helped put Kurdistan Region on the map24/05/2012 09:43
ERBIL, May, 24 (AKnews) - Erbil International Airport (EIA) in the last 12 months has achieved international recognition and helped put the Kurdistan Region on the map, said commercial development and communications and marketing adviser Andrew Jones in an interview with AKnews.
Q: How many flights a week does EIA have?
A: 12 flights a day and 84 flights a week, and that’s increasing all the time.
Q: Will there be an increase in the number of flights soon?
A: During the summer the flights increase because of the number of charter aircraft coming. We're also looking forward to welcoming new schedule services, for example Qatar Airways on 23th of this month. hopefully Mahan Airways will launch in June.
Q: How many flights a week will Qatar Airways have to EIA?
A: Four flights a week to Erbil from Doha, in quite a good time as well. [The flights] will be during the day.
Q: Has Mahan confirmed the start of its flights to Erbil yet?
A: The airline has completed ICCA approval and plans to start in June, and has expressed having three flights a week to Erbil. EIA is awaiting confirmation.
Q: When EIA launched, was it challenging and hard for EIA to open the gate to the world?
A: I think when the airport first opened in 2003, it was quite difficult because of the war going on in Iraq. Then in 2005 the entry facility at the old airport opened, and then Royal Jordanian and Austrian Airlines were one of the two first airlines to come.
Since the new airport opened in September 2010, which was formally opened by the Prime Minister of Turkey Receb Taib Erdogan and President Barzani in March 2011, it has been a catalyst of growth. [We’ve seen] new airlines come and passenger numbers have increased dramatically. There is no sign yet of the growth going down.
Q: How many direct and indirect flights does EIA have?
A: The only indirect flights are Iraqi Airways. Flights are from here, Erbil, to Suli then to Baghdad.
Direct flights are all principally to major hubs, from which you can then go and travel. So major hubs are Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Istanbul, Amman, Frankfurt.
For example Egypt Air [allows people to fly] from Cairo to wherever. For example Egypt Air is one of the cheapest routes to London.
Q: Is there balance between the number of people leaving Kurdistan and those coming into the region?
A: It is pretty balanced. For example EIA in April last month had 44,839 incoming passengers and 39,436 out going passengers.
Depending on the time of year the ratio may change. People go on holiday during summer, people go to visit friends and family overseas. People who are working here go on holiday. So overall the demand is growing.
Q: What was the purpose of launching Erbil airport? Was it financial or something else?
A: The airport was commissioned in 2004 by Prime Minister Nechervan Barzani. I think the Kurdistan Regional Government then had the basic aim to end the isolation of the region and the airport is effectively the gateway for Kurdistan.
From Erbil you can connect to the hubs we talked about, like Dubai, Istanbul, Frankfurt, Vienna and Doha soon.
Historically Kurdistan as a region was very difficult to access. First of all during the regime of Saddam Hussein it was very difficult. The airport made traveling to the region very easy. If you have good, easy transport links it encourages investment, the economy and jobs.
Q: Was it a win-win tie between politics and the economy?
A: When I talk about it economically, I have to talk about the investment the Kurdistan Regional Government has made in the airport ($365m/425bn IQD) and plus the running costs, some of which are offset by revenue but not all.
That investment is a catalyst, enabler and facilitator to encourage investment to create political, social, cultural and economic links with the rest of the world. I don’t think you can put a value on that.
Q: About EIA's income. Is it making a profit?
A: The income of EIA is derived from landing fees, commercial activities and revenue sharing with private sector and contractors. Very few airport's make 'profits' as such, the main objective is to secure revenue to offset the capital and running costs of an airport.
Revenue is derived from passenger taxes and a whole range of other activities. So the revenue is important to help offset the cost of running a safe, efficient international airport and making sure the airport reaches international standards.
Q: Have you reached your standards?
A: In some areas yes, progress has been made.
Q: In what way?
A: Because it is a process of development, process of revolution, building skills.
For example in the coming months we are training traffic controllers in the ground radar. Over the next few months, not before the end of summer.
Q: With regard to leases and contracts in the airport, how many companies are renting land in the airport?
A: There are a number of companies operating in the airport, either in cargo, terminals or within the airport itself. Some of these companies lease offices and land from the airport.
Q: With regard to cargo capability and loading staff, is EIA satisfied with its cargo?
A: Cargo is the area we need to improve upon, both in the processing in cargo and clearance in terms of costumes.
We are hoping to open a new cargo facility soon hopefully in the next couple of months, which will increase the capacity.
Q: Do you think you can make money from opening new cargo?
A: The income the airport will derive from cargo is based on tonnage. So when an operator arrives, we have landing fees and handling fees. The airport receives landing fees. Usually companies who do handling and give a percentage of the revenue to the airport.
Cargo operations are potentially a good source of revenue for the airport and we are adopting models used all over the world for handling and processing cargo.
Hopefully in the future exports will be going out - fruits and vegetables and other agricultural products. The potential is huge once the agricultural industry is modernized. Pomegranate for example. the potential of export is huge.
What’s important is that the airport is able to act as a gate way. When the agricultural industry is ready, it can access the market in Europe and Middle East.
Q: Iraq's "fugitive" vice president Tareq al-Hashemi flew from Erbil airport after the arrest warrant was issued against him on charged of allegedly running death squads. What do you have to say about this?
A: The airport has no comment to make about the movement of VIP's through the airport.
Q: Who is operating the airport security?
A: The airport security is run by Asayish. For security issues you need to talk to them.
Q: With regard to the movement of passengers, trade and investment between Iraq and Kurdistan, is it the same between Kurdistan and Europe? Because Baghdad is not yet stable.
A: In terms of passengers, Iraqi Airways is a significant contributor to the passenger total. Most passengers come in to Erbil, 40 or 50 percent have Iraqi passport and the other 50 percent are from Europe, the US, the Far East and so on.
Q: For companies investing in Erbil, which is the biggest oil market in the Middle East now. In what way are you helping them? I mean indirectly or directly to encourage the market?
A: The airport is a facilitator, catalyst. We make it easy for airlines to come here. Who flies in their airlines is up to the airlines.
For example, when Qatar arrive this week, as we expect, Qatar is the leading producer of gas and oil. In terms of inbound and outbound traffic, there will be a lot of oil and gas industry companies coming to Erbil.
In terms of facilitating private jets, we have very good services run by Mek Airline, which has a contract with EIA. They provide first class services for private gets and many oil executives fly on private jets.
We are making provisions for helicopter services for the oil and gas industry to be based here at the airport.
Q: In terms of location, are you happy with where EIA is? How far EIA is from archeology sites, the town center and hotels?
A: EIA is only 7km from the town center. Vienna airport is 20km from the town center, Heathrow airport is 30km from the center of London, Abu Dhabi is 20km from the center.
Erbil airport is very well placed for the city of Erbil, hotels and main roads to Suli , Mosul to Kirkuk and the rest of the region.
Q: What do you think of Erbil? In terms of welcoming new visitors?
A: New hotels are opening all the time. Divan opened last month, Rotana a few years ago. There are other five star facilities also opening. Also four and three star are opening all the time.
It is important that Erbil caters for a whole range of travelers. Whether a family man coming from Baghdad for a holiday or a senior gas and oil executive coming from Europe. They need to have a choice of accommodation. It will take a couple of years for the hotel industry here to catch up with the demand.
Q: Between Suli airport and Erbil airport, which one is best in terms of passenger numbers and representing the Kurdistan Regional Government?
A: Thanks for the question!
Both airports are set for a purpose. Erbil because of its position geographically, culturally, and the capital of Kurdistan. Because the parliament is here and other ministries. That’s why Erbil has a different role to play .
The airport of Suli is doing well and it’s a success but it is unlikely to see the level of traffic that Erbil has. That is not a criticism of Suli airport. It has a different role and it’s a good airport. It’s serving the population and the economy of Suli and there's a lot of investment there. It is fulfilling its potential just as Erbil needs to fulfill its potential.
Q: People sometimes complain when they go to the Hajj. They say there were no other flights scheduled in Saudi Arabia to come back to Kurdistan. They are old and tired after doing the Hajj. Is this not affecting the volume of passengers?
A: The airport doesn't provide the plane, nor the flights and has nothing to do whatsoever with the permission and slots granted by the authorities in Saudi Arabia. That’s the matter of governments of Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
If you are saying that there are more people who want to go on the pilgrimage than there are available flights, then that’s an issue that I think affects many parts of the Middle East that demand going on a pilgrimage.
Q: Is there anything you want to add?
A: I think Erbil airport in the last 12 month has got international recognition and helped put Kurdistan on the map. People are very interested in what happened in Kurdistan.
In the whole of Iraq in 2011, maybe there were about 1.5 million passengers. If you look at the size of population and what’s happening in the other countries in Middle East, you would expect 6 million people to be traveling by air. So you can see the potential, from 1.5 to 6.
At the end of October EIA will help host an aviation conference in Iraq (the second Iraq aviation cargo logistics conference) on October 27-28. We will invite suppliers from around the world to come to showcase technology and products to the aviation industry. That industry has huge potential in Iraq.
By Hemn Hadi