The budget carrier flydubai launched its first flights into Iraq on Friday, as it aims to capitalise on Erbil's emergence as a gateway into a war-torn country on the mend. The UAE is playing a major role in this redevelopment, with investment from the Emirates into the Kurdistan region expected to reach US$3 billion (Dh11.01bn) this year and rise to $6bn in the next few years, the UAE Ministry of Foreign Trade said.
Much of that money is going into the energy sector, the ministry said. "Erbil is an up-and-coming business destination," said Ghaith al Ghaith, the chief executive of flydubai. "There are new hotel developments, real estate sectors, healthcare and leisure facilities, and trade centres all being built and developed. This has led to parallels with Dubai in terms of growth and opportunities." About 30 passengers made the journey to Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, from Dubai on Friday. These included business travellers and Iraqis returning to visit relatives.
Dina Jasim, who lives in Dubai but is originally from Baghdad, was on the flight with her husband and two children. "We're going to see my mother and sister. I haven't seen them for two and a half years," Ms Jasim said. They chose to meet in Erbil, where the family would stay for a week, because of the safety of the area. Ms Jasim said she was surprised at the cost - Dh1,225 for a one-way flight - but said airline staff told her this was because of the high insurance costs for flying to Iraq.
David Butler, 62, a helicopter pilot based in Dubai, said he decided to travel to Iraq in search of new, interesting places to visit. "I'm trying to go to places where tourists don't go," said Mr Butler. He said he planned to visit the ancient citadel in Erbil and travel outside of the city to see some waterfalls. Etihad Airways launched direct flights from Abu Dhabi to Erbil last month. The hotel companies Rotana, Millennium and Copthorne plan to open hotels in the Kurdistan region.
Mr al Gaith said flydubai, which will fly to Erbil twice a week, would consider adding more flights to the city if the demand was there. email@example.com