A passenger plane flying from Lebanon to Iraq turned back after the Iraqi transport minister’s son missed the flight and phoned Baghdad to stop the aircraft from landing, Middle East Airlines (MEA) has said.
Marwan Salha, the acting chairman of MEA, told Reuters news agency that the flight, scheduled to leave at 10.40 GMT on Thursday, had been delayed for six minutes while MEA staff looked for Mahdi al-Amiri, son of Hadi al-Amiri, and his friend in the business lounge.
“We made the necessary announcements and the last calls,” he said. “The plane took off but one of the passengers turned out to be the son of the minister of Iraq.”
Salha said that when Amiri arrived at the gate he was angry and said: “I will not allow the plane to land in Baghdad.”
It's very disturbing because this is pure nepotism.
Twenty-one minutes into the flight, the Baghdad airport station manager called MEA operations to tell them there was no clearance to land, Salha said. The plane then returned to Beirut and the passengers disembarked.
“It’s very disturbing because this is pure nepotism,” Salha said, adding that he hoped to resume flights to Iraq on Friday but that there would not be another flight on Thursday.
Transport Minister Hadi al-Amiri is head of the Badr Organisation, once an armed fighter group, and a political ally of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Iraq’s Transport Ministry confirmed the airliner had been turned around but said this was due to airport cleaning and that the minister’s son had not been due to be a passenger on it.
Kareem al-Nuri, the transport minister’s media advisor, said: “There were cleaning operations in the airport and specific measures were taken. We asked all flights not to land in Baghdad airport after 9 a.m. (0600 GMT) but this flight arrived after this time, so we asked it to turn back.
“This information (about the minister’s son) is not true and the minister is not accepting such behaviour. The minister’s son was not scheduled to take that flight at all.”
An official at Baghdad airport, who asked not to be named, said air traffic was normal, with 30 flights landing on Thursday. The only one turned around was the one from Beirut.
Many Iraqis believe that relatives of elected officials and leaders of political parties act as if they are above the law, reported Reuters.