Gulf Air is eyeing its position in a key market as it begins operating a new weekly service to Najaf in Iraq, with the Holy City becoming the airline’s second destination in the country. It also boosts Gulf Air’s total route network to 44 destinations across 29 countries.
The new service to the holy city comes only weeks after Gulf Air resumed commercial operations to Baghdad for the first time since 1991.
The debut flight carried a delegation of senior officials from Gulf Air as well as government, business, religious, diplomatic and media representatives and a number of guests. They included Bahrain’s Ambassador to Iraq Salah Al Malki, Iraq’s Ambassador to Bahrain Ghassan Hussain and Civil Aviation Affairs Under-Secretary Captain Abdulrahman Mohammed Al Gaoud.
There is excitement about opening up travel to a historic city with major religious significance in the Muslim world. Najaf is the renowned home of the sacred shrine of the 4th Caliph os Islam Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (also known as “Im?m Al?”). It is also a key centre for Islamic theological teaching. It also lies less than 30 kilometres from the ancient city of Babylon, with close proximity to other important holy cities including Kufa and Kerbala.
In a speech given prior to leaving on the inaugural flight Gulf Air Chief Executive Officer Mr Samer Majali said: “As we continue on our journey as the leading GCC carrier into Iraq, I am very proud to be on this flight to Najaf today. We have identified Iraq as a niche destination to which, building on our previous experience and knowledge of operating to the country, we can provide a trusted and important link to our customers and be their first choice when flying to the country based on excellent connectivity, value for money, and friendly service.”
He continued: “A large number of pilgrims visit the sacred shrine of Imam Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammad, in Najaf and other holy sites nearby each year. As Iraq continues to rebuild and prosper we envisage that Najaf will become a centre of religious and cultural tourism. The potential is enormous and as such we plan to increase the service from four times per week to daily as part of our 2009/2010 winter schedule from 26 October, by which time we will have received two of the 15 brand new A320 aircraft we have on order.”