News & Politics

An Iraqi Airways Flight to Dulles? Don’t Count on It.

An Iraqi Airways Boeing 747. Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.

Could Baghdad be the next great destination with a nonstop flight out of Washington? Iraqi Airways claims it will begin offering service between Baghdad and Dulles International Airport in 2016, but it’s tough to say what’s more unlikely: that there’s actually enough demand to justify flights between Baghdad and Washington, or that Iraq’s flag airline can actually launch the service.

Iraqi Airways’ director general, Osama Sadr, announced the Baghdad-to-Washington service last month. “The preparation has been done after several meetings were held with the administrative bodies of the airports that Iraq is planning to travel to,” he said, according to the Kurdish news agency Rudaw.

If an Iraqi Airways plane is headed toward Washington next year, the administrative body that runs Dulles isn’t aware of it, Kimberly Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, tells Washingtonian.

“We have not heard anything about Iraqi Airways beginning here,” she says. “Of course we’re always interested in airlines who want to begin service at Dulles.”

Iraqi Airways sounds interested in connecting to Dulles, but its approval to fly into US airspace is probably a stretch. The Federal Aviation Administration does not allow foreign carriers to fly into the United States until it reviewed a country’s aviation procedures according to the International Aviation Safety Assessment program. Currently, Iraq is not a particularly safe place to fly. Its airspace sees frequent military activity, especially in parts of the country where the terror group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria maintains a presence. The safety record of Iraqi Airways is also in doubt—in August, the carrier was restricted from flying into to European Union airspace until at least summer 2016. Considering any reasonably safe route for the 6,200-mile flight between Baghdad and Washington would likely cross over the heart of Europe, the EU’s ban makes Iraqi Airways’ plans for a DC flight even more difficult to achieve.

But even if the carrier can get around all the regulatory hurdles, a nonstop route between Dulles and the airport formerly known as Saddam International just doesn’t make much sense for an airline. The Economist noted that Iraqi Airways’ choice of Washington instead of, say, New York as its lone US destination is a likely play for government travel, but there’s no way any federal employees will take it. US government workers going on international flights are required to take US carriers or foreign airlines with codesharing agreements with US airlines. In the case of Iraq, where the US will have a large presence for the indeterminate future, government workers typically transfer in large Middle East hubs like Istanbul, Dubai, or Qatar.

Tourism is equally unlikely. Iraq remains one of the most dangerous countries for US citizens to travel in, and in the reverse direction, Iraq doesn’t crack the Commerce Department’s top 50 countries for foreign visitors to the US. But maybe Dulles will get an Iraqi Airways flight. Even if no one wants to—or is legally permitted to—take it, it would at least, as the One Mile at a Time travel blog writes, make for an interesting addition to the tarmac.

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.