Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Iraq Gets a Lift from Airline without Planes

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Iraq Gets a Lift from Airline without Planes

Article excerpt

The road from Baghdad to Saddam International Airport is deserted and looks unused. Certainly no airline passengers have traveled the route in years.

Still, inside the airport's main administration building are signs of life. In fact, Iraqi Airways (IA), one of Iraq's most successful companies before the 1991 Gulf War, could be leading the way in diversifying to survive under tough economic sanctions.

Few companies were hit as hard by the embargo as IA. Since 1990, when the United Nations sanctions were imposed on Iraq, no commercial flights have been permitted. Iraq deposited its fighter aircraft in Iran and parked all of its 15 Boeing commercial jets in neighboring friendly countries for safekeeping. Eight years later, that's where they remain.

But, as Ayad Hammam, director of IA's commercial activities explains, "flight operations was just a part of the company's work. We had 5,000 employees - not only pilots and engineers in flight operations, but also commercial, administration, legal, catering, and publicity staff and travel agents."

With sanctions, the Iraqi dinar lost its value and salaries became a pittance, especially in view of the soaring cost of living. As government employees, IA workers received monthly salaries, but that couldn't keep up with 6,000 percent inflation. Many left the company to scrounge a livelihood somewhere else. "Just half our staff is still with us," says Mr. Hammam. But IA retained many of its skilled staff.

"The company felt an obligation to its workers. After the war, we had to find new sources of revenue.... We wanted to make use of our employees," he says. "We had an international network.... We had highly trained mechanical engineers, and we were oriented to a competitive market."

IA found work in Malaysia for its pilots. And it made contracts with three other countries to employ teams of its engineers.

But the real success of the company lies at home. At the airport, the center of action is now the catering department. …

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