Regional Airlines Curtail Service as War Threatens
AMMAN, Jordan (AP) _ The threat of war in the Persian Gulf region forced several regional airlines to curtail service Wednesday, and travel agents said many remaining flights are booked days ahead.
Most foreign airlines earlier had canceled flights into the area, leaving only Arab flag carriers serving many points.
Iran’s flag carrier, Iran Air, and Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines each suspended flights to several points in the region.
Royal Jordanian Airlines canceled all eastbound flights because it could not afford the soaring rates imposed by insurers, said spokesman Samir Mutaweh.
The eastern routes would require flight over Saudi Arabia, where the U.S.-dominated multinational force is poised for attack.
″The sums that were imposed on us by the insurance and reinsurance companies were absolutely astronomical,″ Mutaweh said.
He said companies had demanded an extra $500,000 to insure the airline’s four Lockheed TriStar jetliners for only 48 hours, and an extra $165,000 to cover its three aging Boeing 727 jets for a single day.
Even Kuwaiti Airways suspended its regular commercial flights Wednesday because of soaring cost of insurance. A source at the airline, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there are other unspecified reasons for the stoppage.
Iraq seized the airline’s property in Kuwait, including 15 aircraft, when it invaded Aug. 2. However, Kuwaiti Airways resumed flights from Cairo, Egypt, in November with eight jetliners that were outside Kuwait during the invasion.
EgyptAir also announced it is canceling its flights to the gulf area as of Thursday. Mohammed Fahim Rayan, EgyptAir board chairman, told the state-run Middle East News Agency that the move was taken because of the insurance hike.
The first United States fighter jets launched an attack on Iraq about 4:50 p.m. EST Wednesday, less than a day after the U.N. deadline for Iraq to leave Kuwait expired at midnight Tuesda.
Iran Air halted flights to Qatar, Dubai and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, as well as to the Syrian capital of Damascus.
Middle East Airlines, which has endured near-continual civil war in its home country since 1975, halted flights to Dhahran, Bahrain and Doha, but said it would continue serving Jeddah, Aden, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Royal Jordanian canceled all flights to Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Calcutta, Karachi and New Delhi beginning Wednesday.
Mutaweh said the airline was operating only its 727s in the region, shuttling passengers to Vienna for trips to Europe and the United States on the company’s newer jets.
Royal Jordanian also has begun imposing a $150 surcharge on each one-way passage to the Middle East or the gulf and $250 on flights elsewhere to cover part of the increased insurance cost, Mutaweh said.
Austrian President Kurt Waldheim was forced to change planes when he flew to Amman on Monday because Austrian Airlines refused to fly him from Cairo to Jordan, officials with his party said.
Amman travel agent Rula Barakat said flights to non-Arab countries were packed because of the cutbacks and efforts by both foreigners and locals to flee a possible war.
She said some flights to Europe are booked solid until Jan. 28 and even flights to Egypt are booked up three or four days in advance.
Elsewhere, Scandinavian Airline Services on Tuesday night stopped carrying packages as a precaution against terrorist attacks related to the gulf crisis, Radio Sweden and other newspapers reported Wednesday.