Sweden suspends commercial flights to Iraq amid allegations of attempted shootdown

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A file photo of an MD-83 similar to the one involved in the incident
Image: Barcex..

Sweden has suspended all commercial flights in and out of Iraq amid allegations that an attempt was made to shoot down a Nordic Airways passenger jet.

On August 8 a Nordic Airways McDonnell Douglas MD-83 took off on a flight between Sulaimaniyah, northern Iraq to Stockholm, Sweden, carrying 130 passengers. Shortly after take-off the pilots noticed a trail of light arcing over the aircraft in a fashion similar to that of an incoming missile.

According to a spokesman from the Civil Aviation Authority, the preliminary view is that "some kind of rocket" was fired at the aircraft. However, the director of Sulaimaniyah International Airport, refuted the allegations, saying "the pilot's assumptions were wrong...in fact, the Kurdish hunters are using spotlights at night. We interviewed more than 50 passengers who arrived in Sweden and had been on board and they said nothing happened and they hadn't seen any gunfire."

Sweden's decision to ban services from Iraq affects two airlines, one being Nordic Airways, which operates a weekly service between Sulaimaniyah and Stockholm, and the other being Viking Airlines, which runs a service between Stockholm and Irbil four times a week.

According to the aviation authority, Nordic Airways has rebooked passengers scheduled to fly out of Iraq onto other services out of the country, but 3,000 people booked onto Viking Airlines's route are currently stranded in Iraq.

While flights currently remain suspended, Austrian Airlines have also suspended flights to Irbil, citing the same incident and a subsequent resultant security review as their reasoning for the cessation of the route. Since then, the Kurdistan Regional Government, Erbil International Airport and Suleimaniah International Airport have all been in discussions with Austrian Airlines in an attempt to re-launch flights from the airline.

There has only been one confirmed case of a commercial airliner being struck by a missile over Iraq; that of the 2003 Baghdad DHL shootdown incident, which became famous as the only time a commercial fixed-wing airliner has been successfully landed without any operational control surfaces.