Austrian Airlines says it will be the first European air carrier to start regular flights to Iraq. The airline will fly to Irbil, in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, where there have been relatively few insurgent attacks, compared to other parts of the country.

Austrian Airlines spokesman Johannes Davoras says his company has received rights to operate twice weekly services from the Austrian capital, Vienna to Irbil. Operations are due to start March 9, and will be increased to three flights per week in April.

Although a round-trip economy class ticket will start at nearly $1,200, Davoras believes there will be no shortage of passengers, especially from North America and Europe. "Irbil is a quit fast growing city. At the moment, it has around one-million inhabitants. The U.N., as far as we know, is seeking to set up a local headquarters there for Iraq. And there are some corporations that start economic ties with this region," he said.

Davoras says his company investigated the safety aspects of flying to Iraq. It concluded the northern Kurdish region seems to be relatively safe for foreigners. "As far as we are aware it is more in the backward regions. In the past there were no incidents in this northern region. And that is why it came in our focus also," he said.

Yet, security concerns are among the reasons why Austrian Airlines will not fly to the capital, Baghdad, for now, although Davoras says this could change in the near future.

He says Austrian Airlines has experience with flying to crisis regions. It was the first European airline to start services to Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Pristina in Kosovo soon after fighting ended in those regions of the former Yugoslavia.