• U.S.

Homeless, But Still Flying

2 minute read

With jet-fuel prices doubling since Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Pan Am has been forced to put its prized London routes on the block, and Eastern’s creditors last week called for the line’s outright liquidation. But if they have problems, how about Kuwait Airways?

First, Iraqi troops annexed the country whose flag the airline carries. Then they seized 15 of the carrier’s 23 jetliners. But even though it can no longer land at home, the plucky little carrier has managed to continue operating up and down the gulf, right under Saddam’s nose. Last week Kuwait Airways announced that starting next month, it will offer transatlantic service from New York City to London, Cairo, Bahrain and Bombay. Said ads in the New York Times and several Middle East newspapers: “Until we’re able to welcome you to Kuwait, welcome aboard.”

% For the airline, staying in business is a gesture of defiance. As Kuwait’s flag carrier, it represents a continuing national presence abroad even as Saddam’s army attempts to obliterate the country’s identity. When Iraqi troops crossed the border, eight Kuwait Airways jets (four 747s, three 727s and a 767) and more than half the carrier’s 5,500 employees were abroad, scattered from London to Bangkok. Managers set up temporary headquarters in Cairo, contacted enough employees to crew their remaining jets and pressed ahead with flights to Jidda, Dubai and Bahrain.

In addition to the airline’s available cash, ample financing has been provided by the Kuwait Investment Office in London, supplemented by a loan from the Kuwaiti government-in-exile. Other carriers have helped too. In Dublin, Aer Lingus has arranged for Kuwait Airways to patch into its computerized worldwide reservation system. Another problem arose when Iraqi troops confiscated large supplies of Kuwait Airways tickets. The carrier will now use tickets with a new design. The International Air Transport Association is making sure that only tickets issued by Kuwait Airways are honored.

The resumption of transatlantic service is the first step in an ambitious expansion of the carrier’s routes. Depending on how things go, they may even be able to resume flights to Baghdad one of these days.

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