International flights to and from Iraq’s Kurdistan region were set to end from 6:00 p.m. (11.00 a.m. ET) on Friday, September 29, after the central government imposed a ban in retaliation for the region’s vote in a referendum for independence.
Almost all foreign airlines suspended flights to the airports of Erbil and Sulaimaniya, in compliance with a notice from the government in Baghdad, which has control over the country’s airspace.
Lufthansa and Austrian were the only carriers to have kept at least one flight still scheduled after the deadline. But a spokesman for Lufthansa Group said on Friday morning it was checking whether it would have to cancel flights.
Lufthansa flies once a week to Erbil on Saturdays, while its unit Austrian Airlines flies daily. Domestic flights are still permitted to and from Kurdistan, and so travelers are expected to get there mostly by transiting via Baghdad’s airport, which will come under strain from the extra traffic.
Kurdish airports handle 40 to 50 percent of Iraq’s total international traffic, Taher Abdallah, Sulaimaniya airport’s director general, told reporters on Wednesday.
Check-in operations at Erbil’s international airport were running smoothly on Friday morning and there was no sign of disruption.
Iraq’s Kurds endorsed secession by nine to one in a vote on Monday, September 25, that caused Baghdad knitting brows, and other governments who fear the referendum could lead to renewed conflict in the region.
The United Nations and United States have both offered to help mediate between Kurdistan and Baghdad.