World Airways received permission from the Transportation Department on Friday to fly passengers and cargo between Washington Dulles International Airport and Iraq.
Resumption of airline service is a milestone in Iraq’s recovery from war, said Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta.
“While our action today is only an initial step to restoring air service, it is a significant step toward a safe and secure aviation link with Iraq,” Mr. Mineta said in a statement.
Northwest Airlines and cargo carrier Kalitta Air, based in Ypsilanti, Mich., also received permission from the department to resume flights to Iraq.
World Airways provides customized cargo and passenger service for international flights. It is one of the U.S. government’s biggest air service contractors for the military effort in Iraq.
“It’s a needed service and, of course, we have always worked with the government,” said Hollis Harris, president and chief executive officer of World Airways.
Two years ago, World Airways moved its headquarters from Herndon to Peachtree City, Ga., to cut costs. It operates 17 long-distance aircraft.
The airline is negotiating with a Washington-based business coalition to carry representatives of the State Department, the American Red Cross and private investors seeking contracts to rebuild Iraq. Mr. Harris refused to disclose names of his customers until negotiations are completed.
The flights will run from Dulles Airport to Baghdad International Airport, with a stopover in Geneva.
Last month, transportation officials lifted a ban on air service between the United States and Iraq. As part of the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1990, the Transportation Department banned commercial flights that stopped over in Iraq and barred Iraqi-registered aircraft from flying to or from the United States.
Initial World Airways flights will consist of a single MD-11 airplane making two passenger flights per week. Later flights probably will include cargo, Mr. Harris said.
An official starting date will depend on further clearance by the Federal Aviation Administration, the Transportation Security Administration, the Department of Defense and other federal agencies and on resolving security and infrastructure issues at Baghdad International Airport.
“That airport is not certified yet for regular traffic,” Mr. Harris said.
Military contracts under the Defense Department’s Air Mobility Command program helped rescue World Airways from $26 million in losses in 2001. Under the program, the Defense Department enlists civilian aircraft for flights to military hot spots.
World Airways posted a $2 million profit last year and is on schedule for another profitable year, Mr. Harris said.
Northwest Airlines officials said they have not yet made plans for routes, passengers or cargo to Iraq.
“We have no immediate plans for how the plan will be implemented,” said Tracy Kurschner, spokeswoman for Minneapolis-based Northwest. “But we have received clearance.”
United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have clearance to fly to Iraq, according to the Transportation Department.