Saudi Arabia, Iraq Hold Military Discussions

A model of Saudi airline Flynas is on display during a ceremony to sign a deal between Airbus and Flynas in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia January 16, 2017.

Riyadh, Baghdad- Iraq’s Major General Othman al-Ghanmi, accompanied by a military delegation, headed Wednesday morning to Saudi Arabia, in response to an invitation from his Saudi counterpart Chief of Defense Gen. Abdulrahman bin Saleh Al-Banyan.

This two-day visit is the first of its kind visit since decades for such a high-rank Iraqi officer.

A statement revealed that the visit aims to discuss vital topics in the coming period via cooperation and coordination in fields of fighting terrorism and opening border facilities – it is a significant step to cement ties between the two sisterly countries, exchange intelligence information and discuss challenges facing the region’s security and safety.

In the same context, a Saudi civil airplane arrived in Baghdad International Airport on Wednesday to be the first since 27 years ago when flights were suspended between Iraq and Saudi Arabia after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein ordered his troops into neighboring Kuwait.

Tickets for the maiden flight were advertised for as low as SAR27 ($7.2) excluding taxes as flynas CEO Bandar al-Muhanna said the move to reopen the route would help “link the two sisterly countries”.

He added: “We worked hard to see that flynas flights to the brotherly nation of Iraq are operational as quickly as possible in order to connect the two brotherly nations economically and socially after a 27-year-long break.”

Climate Change Threatens Flights Worldwide

London- Climate change will significantly increase the incidence of severe turbulence worldwide, a new study has found.

The study, which was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, said that severe mid-flight turbulence could triple by 2050.

Researchers from the University of Reading have created a mathematical model to predict how clear-air turbulence (CAT) – the most troublesome type – will be affected by global conditions from 2050-2080.

They said CAT, which is invisible and can’t be see on radars, is strong enough to throw people and luggage around an aircraft cabin.

At a typical cruising altitude of 39,000 feet, the study found severe turbulence will be 180 percent more common over the North Atlantic, 160 percent more common over Europe, 110 percent over North America, 90 percent over the North Pacific, and 60 percent over Asia.

The Southern Hemisphere will also experience an increase, though less than in the Northern Hemisphere. The skies over South America will experience a 60 percent increase in severe turbulence, Australia 50 percent, and Africa 50 percent.

Luke Storer, a PhD researcher who worked on the study, said: “While turbulence does not usually pose a major danger to flights, it is responsible for hundreds of passenger injuries every year.”

Kurdistan with No International Flights…Borders Battle Looming

Baghdad, Irbil- All international flights to and from the Kurdistan region were suspended from Friday evening after the Iraqi central government enforced a travel ban in response to the referendum on independence held by the Region last Monday.

The travel ban came as Kurdish authorities insisted to calm the situation by calling for an urgent meeting with officials in Baghdad to solve the crisis.

But at the same time, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) rejected to hand over 3 border gates to Baghdad.

Last Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that if border crossings are not given to Baghdad within three days, “we will stop all international flights from and to the KRG.”

Therefore, a battle of the three main crossing gates is looming as the Iraqi Defense Ministry asserted it plans to control the gates in coordination with Iran and Turkey.

“Plans to impose the authority of the central government over land and air borders are going as has been planned in coordination with concerned parties and neighboring countries and there is no delay in the procedures,” the ministry said in a statement issued Friday.

The three border gates are the Ibrahim al-Khalil border crossing in Zakho, Dohuk, on the Turkish border, the Bashmakh border crossing on the Iranian border near the city of Sulaymaniyah, and Haj Omran, another crossing into Iran.

Almost all international air companies suspended their flights to the two international airports in Irbil and Sulaimani on Friday in response to the Iraqi-imposed ban on international flights to and from the Kurdistan Region.

However, the ban will not affect the internal airports. Therefore, the majority of travelers are expected to land at the Baghdad airport, which expects to witness masses of travelers due to the addition of flights on its schedule. On Friday, the two airports of Irbil and Sulaimani were packed with foreign travelers who rushed to leave the area before the ban comes into effect.

For his part, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Friday that Washington did not recognize the referendum.

“We encourage all sides to engage constructively in a dialogue to improve the future of all Iraqis,” Tillerson said.

The US position came as the highest Shi’ite reference in Iraq Ali Al-Sistani interfered for the first time in the crisis and announced his objection to the division of the country.

In a statement read in the Shi’ite holy city of Karbala by cleric Ahmad al-Safi during Friday prayers, al-Sistani said all parties in Iraq should abide by the Iraqi constitution.

Also, the Iranian semi-official news agency Tasnim said on Friday that Iran has banned the transportation of refined crude oil products by Iranian companies to and from Iraq’s Kurdistan region, after Tehran vowed to stand by Baghdad following the region’s vote for independence, Reuters reported on Friday.

Sleeping in Planes May Damage Hearing

Sleeping on a plane

London- A new research published by Harvard Medical School revealed that snoozing on planes really could mean losing hearing. If you are asleep on a plane during a sudden change in altitude, your ability to equalize the pressure in your eardrum might be compromised and could cause permanent damage.

For most people, a sudden altitude change makes our ears feel like they’re going to pop. This occurs when the pressures on the outside of your ear don’t match those on the inside. Often, this happens to most people when a plane is landing and drastically drops in altitude.

Typically, these pressures can be equalized by opening a thin canal in your ear called the Eustachian tube by either yawning or swallowing, and this is why some airlines sometimes hand out chewy sweets before landing.

However, in severe cases when the tube remains blocked for a prolonged period of time, an infection can develop which causes fluid to build up behind the eardrum, leading to pain and hearing difficulties.

Given its direct association with changes in altitude, it’s also a condition that commonly affects scuba divers and people driving in the mountains.

Initial Riyadh-Baghdad Agreement on Restoring Daily Direct Flights

Riyadh- Iraq’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Rishdi Al-Aani revealed on Monday that a number of transport ministry officials back home have been holding extensive talks with their Saudi counterparts, in a move to restore direct flights between the two countries.

These discussions played largely into reaching an agreement in terms of resumption of daily flights, Al-Aani told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

Documented sessions of talks were signed on immediately resuming direct airline activity, as well as daily air cargo flights, he added.

Flight destinations include Baghdad, Basra, Najaf, Erbil and Mosul, paving the way for the two countries to conclude a joint memorandum of understanding within days. He pointed out that both countries’ officials presented their final visions in hopes of reaching a joint memorandum of understanding.

Al-Aani also said that the meeting was attended by a group of technical and legal officials who completed detailed reports related to resuming aviation activity, including commercial and cargo flights.

On the other hand, Saudi Transport Minister Sulaiman bin Abdullah Al-Hamdan and General Authority of Civil Aviation President Abdul Hakim bin Mohammed Al-Tamimi met on Monday with Iraqi civil aviation chief Eng. Hussein Mohammad Kazem.

The two sides discussed the air transport services and mechanism of cooperation between the two countries and signed a memorandum of understanding between the two countries.

The tripartite discussed the mechanism of enhancing transport between the two countries, stressing that the General Authority of Civil Aviation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia keen on developing cooperation frameworks in the field of air transport with other countries, the Saudi state news agency SPA cited Al-Tamimi as saying.

For his part, Eng. Hussein Mohammed Kazem positively reviewed the meeting and noted great development in the relations between the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Government of the Republic of Iraq, stressing that the governments of the two countries are devoted to enhancing opportunities that would boost economic and trade relations between the two countries.

He also expressed hope that this agreement provides opportunities for air carriers to restore direct flight services between the two countries.

Russia Announces Lifting of Economic Sanctions against Turkey

Moscow- Russian authorities have announced the suspension of the ban previously endorsed on Turkish food exports to the Russian markets, along with a warning concerning tourism trips to Turkey.

But, the lifting excluded the exports of Turkish tomato, and discussions will be continued in this regard.

In the meantime, the Russian authorities haven’t suspended the ban of Russian-Egyptian flights, despite the Egypt’s assertion it has accomplished all the necessary procedures to secure aviation safety.

Discussions between Russian and Egyptian officials are ongoing in hopes for flights to resume during this summer’s tourism season.

President Vladimir Putin has inked a decree that suspends some economic procedures taken against Turkey, and mainly the latest presidential decree he signed on November 28 2015, in which sanctions were imposed on Turkey.

Those sanctions banned most Turkish products, halted the work of Turkish construction companies in Russian projects and banned Russian citizens from traveling to Russia. Those and many other procedures were adopted by Russia after the Turkish military shot down a Russian fighter jet over the border with Syria on November 24 of the same year.

Following the incident, Russian-Turkish ties froze for months, till a reconciliation meeting was held between the presidents of the two countries in August 2016. After this meeting, Russia began gradually canceling the punitive measures it took against Turkey.

In his last decree, Putin lifted restrictions on Turkish companies operating in Russia and ended a ban on employing Turkish workers in the country. He also partially restored a bilateral agreement on visa-free movement between the two countries.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the last presidential decree came based on the agreements held between Putin and Erdogan during their last talks in the city of Sochi in May. However, he noted that the export of Turkish tomatoes is still suspended.

Russia’s decision on maintaining the ban of Turkish tomatoe exports raised tension between the two countries; Ankara announced the cancellation of fiscal exemption on Russian cereals. However, it reconsidered its decision after the Russian sanctions lift and the agreement to continue discussions on tomato export.

Russian Minister of Agriculture Aleksandr Tkachyov said Russia produces over 800,000 tones of tomato annually, therefore, the country needs a market that provides it with 500,000 extra tons. However, within five or seven years, Russian producers will be able to fill the local demand.

The minister expected Russia to become a tomato exporter within seven years. For his part, Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich suggested that Moscow may resume the import of Turkish tomato for a limited season in line with the decline of the local product in the summer.

Moscow also announced that flights with Ankara have been resumed after the Turkish side adopted safety-guarantying procedures.

In July 2016, the Russian civil aviation authority announced the suspension of flights to Turkey following the turmoil driven by the failed coup attempt. However, this decision didn’t last long. During the tomato crisis between Moscow and Ankara last month, the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency released a memo to notify the political companies about the possibility of canceling all commercial flights (Charter) to Turkey. These flights depend mainly on transporting millions of Russian tourists to Turkish resorts. This warning had a limited effect on the travel to Turkey.

Finally, in line with the Kremlin and government decisions to suspend all the procedures taken against Turkey, the Federal Air Transport Agency released another decision in June to annul the warning concerning banning charter flights. The Russian market reacted positively with the annulment, and the demand on flights from Russia to Antalya and other Turkish touristm cities hiked.

Although all the new Russian economic punitive procedures against Turkey were suspended, the ban between Moscow and Cairo is ongoing and applies to private and governmental aviation companies.

The flight ban to Egypt was taken following the crash of a Russian airplane in the Sinai desert in 2015 due to a terrorist attack, which killed 224 tourists who were on board.

To resume flights between both countries, especially from Russia to Egyptian resorts, Moscow urged Cairo to improve its security measures in airports and resorts. Both parties formed technical committees to respond to the Russian request concerning security.

Russian sources talked about a possible resumption in flights, and many hoped the problem would be solved after the meetings held between Russian ministers with their Egyptian counterparts and President Sisi. However, those discussion didn’t lead to an agreement.

According to Russian newspaper Kommersant, Cairo is not yet ready to host Russian experts assigned to manage the security procedures, and believes such a move violates its sovereignty.

Washington Studying Banning Laptops on International Flights


Washington – US Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly announced on Sunday that authorities are studying the possibility of banning laptops on international flights into and out of the country.

Kelly said the move would be part of a broader airline security effort to combat what he called “a real sophisticated threat.” He said no decision had been made as to the timing of any ban.

In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Kelly said the United States planned to “raise the bar” on airline security, including tightening screening of carry-on items.

“That’s the thing that they are obsessed with, the terrorists, the idea of knocking down an airplane in flight, particularly if it’s a US carrier, particularly if it’s full of US people.”

In March, the government imposed restrictions on large electronic devices in aircraft cabins on flights from 10 airports, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey.

Britain took similar measures in March targeting a smaller list of countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

A laptop ban could disrupt travel between Europe and America. Some 3,250 flights a week are expected this summer between European Union countries and the United States, according to aviation industry figures.

In Europe last week during President Donald Trump’s nine-day foreign trip, Kelly met with European Commission officials in Brussels to discuss a possible laptop ban in airplane cabins.

The End of In-Flight Entertainment?


London – Seat-back screens that have long been part of in-flight entertainment systems are preparing to depart from many airplanes, American experts say, and will be replaced eventually by content streamed to passengers’ electronic devices through improved wireless service.

With built-in screens, airliners have been providing passengers with a set menu of entertainment content of music and videos for decades with a few movies played on a loop.

Experts say that by streaming content over wireless systems, passengers will have a wider array of content and the carriers will not have to maintain screens because passengers will bring their own portable devices on board.

Jon Cobin, the chief commercial officer at Gogo, which provides Wi-Fi service on more than 2,900 commercial planes, said in an email that “virtually everyone is connected at all times on the ground today.”

By one estimate, in-flight entertainment systems are the biggest expense in outfitting a new plane and can make up 10 percent of the entire cost of an aircraft, despite that screens and their wiring add weight to the plane.

Another financial incentive: Without the screens, carriers can install slimmer seats, which means they can accommodate more passengers and earn more money, Brett Snyder, the author of the airline industry blog “Cranky Flier,” said

Dubai Airport Shut for over an Hour; 22 Flights Diverted: Executive

Dubai Airport

Air traffic was brought to a standstill for more than an hour at Dubai International Airport on Saturday, following the presence of an unauthorized drone in the airspace, thus causing 22 flights to be diverted, aviation authorities said.
This is the second time such an incident takes place in Dubai, in less than two years.

According to Michael Rudolph’s calculation, head of aviation regulation and safety at the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA), this could cost Dubai around $69 million, $1 million per minute. Noting that the closure lasted between 11:36 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. (0639-0745 GMT), and Dubai Airports chief executive Paul Griffiths said thousands of passengers suffered disruption to their journeys.

“This is a very serious incident and we obviously take the safety of our customers and our staff extremely seriously,” Griffiths told Dubaieye 103.8 radio.

“As you can imagine, this is the busiest international airport in the world and there was major inconvenience to thousands of passengers … There are very clear restrictions and no fly zones around all airports in the UAE, saying that this type of activity is actually illegal.”

The flying of drones is prohibited within 5 km (3 miles) of airports, helipads, landing areas or manned aircraft in the UAE.

Aviation concerns focus on smaller drones, operated like model planes and flown for recreation, because their users are often not familiar with the rules of the air.

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority issued a warning in July 2015 after seven incidents where drones had flown near planes at different British airports in less than a year.

Recognising the threat, the European Commission conceded in 2015 that “drone accidents will happen” and has charged its aviation safety agency arm with developing common rules for operating drones in Europe.