British Airline Wants to Begin Service to Baghdad

The Telegraph is reporting that bmi, Heathrow's second biggest airline, is looking to start services from London to the Iraqi capital once the two governments give permission. It would be the first time direct commercial flights have operated between the two countries since the first Gulf War of 1991.

The announcement came on the same day British forces formally ended combat operations in Iraq, formally passing authority for military operations over to the United States.

bmi, which already serves several destinations in the Middle East including Tehran, Tel Aviv, Beirut and Damascus, has met senior Iraqi Government officials to discuss the matter and flights could start in Spring 2010. The announcement came at a meeting of over 300 delegates with Iraqi business interests met at a forum in London attended by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Malikiand and Lord Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business and Enterprise, to discuss investment in Iraq.

The only current direct link to Western Europe is currently provided by another Star Alliance carrier and bmi partner, Austrian Airlines, which flies to Irbil. Turkish Airlines, also part of the Star Alliance and another bmi partner, flies to Baghdad from Istanbul.

British Airways suspended flights to Iraq in March 1987 during the Iran-Iraq war. Flights resumed again in November 1988 but were stopped again before the first Gulf war. It also signaled its desire to restart services shortly after the UK-U.S. invasion in 2003, but was thwarted by the subsequent civil unrest that has claimed the lives of thousands of civilians and hundreds of British soldiers.

Several aircraft have been attacked by insurgent missiles while flying to or from Baghdad's international airport, which is located 10 miles west of the city.

bmi will shortly become 80-percent-owned by German airline Lufthansa after chairman and owner Sir Michael Bishop in October to exercised a put option to sell his stake of 50 percent plus one share for several hundred million pounds. It is not clear what long-term plans Lufthansa has for the airline, which operates one in eight flights from Heathrow.

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