Why did Zagros Group decide to become active in the aviation sector and what is the company’s present level of involvement?
When the old Erbil International Airport opened in 2005, only NGOs, like the Red Cross, or military aircraft were utilizing the facility. We started Zagros Air to help improve the lack of commercial involvement at the airport. So, we approached Iraqi Airways about forming a partnership. At that time, because of the security zone, they were based in Amman, Jordan. So, we signed an agreement with them to move part of that base of operations here to the Kurdistan Region.
Then, because there were certain areas that Iraqi Airways was not able to cover, we began flying on our own to new destinations. In 2005, we started services to both Dubai and Istanbul. We stopped those services in 2008. However, we have now signed a joint-venture agreement with Atlasjet, and are once again offering flights to Istanbul.
We also succeeded in signing an agreement with Austrian Airlines. Initially, they were only offering a few flights to the Kurdistan Region. Now, they are offering flights every day. We signed a similar agreement with Lufthansa. We also have facilities both in Erbil and Baghdad to perform aircraft maintenance.
How does the involvement of international airlines contribute the business environment in Kurdistan?
When people hear that Austrian Airlines or Lufthansa is operating here, they get the impression that this area is safe, secure, and full of opportunity. Moreover, the involvement of these big name airlines helped bring international companies to Kurdistan. People could easily come to region, get involved, and participate in the development process. So, the presence of these airlines really helped grow the overall economy of the region.
How did Zagros become the General Sales Agent (GSA) for Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines?
We approached them. Zagros started out as one company, but now consists of 14 different ones. Each time we get involved in a new field, we try to tie-in with either a reputable international company or a reputable international consultant. We do not wish to start from zero or rely on trial and error. We want to start at the current level of international operations. So, we approached reputable international carriers.
Each time we get involved in a new field, we try to tie-in with either a reputable international company or a reputable international consultant. We do not wish to start from zero or rely on trial and error.
In 2005, we sponsored numerous delegations between Erbil and Austria. We sent envoys to propose the partnership and they sent delegations here to do assessments. One team came to assess security. Another came to assess the situation of the airports in terms of baggage handling, ground terminal services, and other areas. A third even brought pilots and had them fly from Istanbul to Erbil to see what the process was like. In the end, we invested quite a bit in the operation.
Where is Zagros currently active in the Kurdistan Region and what are the company’s plans for further expansion in the aviation sector?
We have our base in Erbil and networks in Slemani. However, since we are the GSA of Iraqi Airways in the Kurdistan Region, we have offices in Duhok as well. We have definite plans to expand our operations. We are in the process of finalizing our AOCs [air operator’s certificate] and we will then start flying to Frankfurt, Dubai, Stockholm, and other international airports. We are also in the process of finalizing the purchase of three new aircraft, which will obviously also allow us to further expand our overall capabilities.