Middle East

Syria plans new commercial airline despite war

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (R) shakes hands with a member of the delegation of Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All East, Supreme Head of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church, Mor Ignatius Aphrem II Karim (C) before a meeting in Damascus April 2, 2014, in this handout released by Syria's national news agency SANA. (REUTERS/SANA)

DAMASCUS: A new Syrian commercial airline plans to start operating to several Arab cities next month, its chairman told AFP on Thursday, despite the conflict raging in the country.

"We hope to operate our first flights in mid-May," Kinda Airlines chairman Naim al-Jarrah said, adding that the exact timing of the launch hangs on international insurance issues and aircraft testing.

Founded three years ago, the Damascus-based Kinda Airlines received a licence in 2013 to fly from the capital and the Mediterranean port city of Latakia to several Arab countries.

Jarrah said Aleppo and Qamishli airports, in the north and northeast, were currently up for expansion, "once they receive international insurance deemed necessary by passengers" amid the civil war that has ravaged much of Syria for more than three years.

So far, Kinda Airlines has obtained permits to fly to Baghdad, Amman and Kuwait City.

It is awaiting permission to fly to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon, Jarrah said.

The company has a rented fleet of four Airbus 320s, including a standby emergency aircraft, from airlines in Jordan and the UAE.

It plans to start with domestic flights, and then operate to Arab cities, then east Asia and finally Europe, Jarrah said.

Asked whether the company would be affected by Western sanctions imposed on Syria's flag carrier after the government cracked down on dissent in 2011, Jarrah said the sanctions "do not affect private companies".

He said that although Arab states have imposed sanctions of their own on Syria, "their sanctions do not target the official carrier, which is still operating flights to several Gulf states, Egypt and Algeria".

Jarrah believes the airline is promising, because "the security around airports is promising, or else we would not have been able to rent the planes or obtain the permits from IATA and licensed international insurance companies."

Kinda Airlines is starting off with a capital of $15 million -- 60 percent invested by Jarrah, and the remaining 40 percent by other Syrian investors, none of whom are on international sanctions blacklists, he said.





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