Sunday, November 19, 2006

Fly the friendly skies

Al Tarrar:

How would you like being flown with your family back home on board of a flag carrier while leisurely thumbing through a magazine, and the co-pilot gently announces a few minutes delay for landing pending traffic control clearance, while the pilot on his left is simultaneously receiving a nasty and hostile reply from the airport traffic control, informing him that his plane will be shot down if it ever gets closer to the runway? Definitely no one would like to be onboard that airplane.

Two months ago, and during a regular flight from Amman to Baghdad, Iraqi airways had run into a most unpleasant turbulence since that hijacking attempt back in 1986.

The incident, which was never reported of, took place when the airplane was descending into Baghdad (ex- Saddam) airport while simultaneously a high official from one of the occupying forces was flying in towards the same airport. The passenger airplane was denied landing clearance and was given an airspace red-lined coordination, which could not be breached; otherwise, a ground to air missile will bring her down instantly! The pilot of the airplane had to circle for 25 minutes between the two designated red-lined in what it seemed to be the longest 25 minutes of his entire life.

After circling a few times in this narrow airstrip the airplane was finally given the permission to land. On landing the pilot suffered from irregular heart beat and a few weeks later the copilot was diagnosed with high blood pressure. The passengers however had landed safely. This example gives you an idea about the low altitudes our pilots have to fly in order to reach higher skies.

The pilots association has been in contention with the Iraqi government regarding the revamping of the Iraqi airways fleet. The government, with the backing of the Americans, is pressing for second hand Boeing 747-SP airplanes at price tag of USD 20 millions/each, while the Iraqi pilots are favoring the brand new Brazilian made airplanes Embraer 195 at price tag USD 30 millions/each.

Pilots argue why paying USD 20 millions for a second hand airplane, whereas one could get a brand new one with competitive capacity and cheaper spare parts as well as low maintenance for USD 10 millions more?

So next time you are onboard and the airplane starts to circle for landing, just hope that you are nowhere near the friendly skies of Baghdad airport.

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