Austrian Airlines reconnects Baghdad to Europe

An Austrian Airlines flight landed in Baghdad on Wednesday, reconnecting the Iraqi capital with Europe through a regular scheduled flight for the first time since 1990.

The plane touched down at about 3:15 pm (1215 GMT), according to an AFP photographer at the airport.

AUA, which has been flying to Erbil in northern Iraq since 2006, expects to fly three times a week to the Iraqi capital from Vienna, the first non-charter airline to begin regular direct flights to and from Europe.

The airline is a subsidiary of German flag carrier Lufthansa.

"We are the first European airline to reopen a regular line with Baghdad," said Marcus Christl, an Austrian Airlines vice president who was at the airport in Baghdad to welcome the flight and the company president, Peter Malinik, who was on board.

"The next flight will be on Friday," Christl added, speaking by telephone.

"This first flight between Baghdad and Vienna will facilitate the arrival in Iraq of investors and businessmen," said a statement on Tuesday by the Iraqi transport ministry.

"Austrian Airlines is returning to the Iraqi capital after 21 years. This will be Austrian's second destination in Iraq, together with the city of Erbil," the airline said on its website, adding that Airbus A320 aircraft would be used.

It said its flights were discontinued after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which brought war and sanctions on Iraq.

Several European airlines have expressed an interest in flying to Iraq, where security has improved despite continuing bomb and gun attacks, and where foreign businessmen are keen for business opportunities.

Lufthansa had planned to begin flights to Baghdad in September, but postponed the project indefinitely due to lack of sufficient demand.

At the end of October, the privately-owned French carrier Aigle Azur launched the first direct service by a European airline to Baghdad since an international embargo in 1990.

But Aigle Azur said in January it would postpone the start of the service between Paris and Baghdad for security reasons.

Baghdad is currently served by a limited number of international carriers, most of them from the Middle East.

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