For much of the crisis in Syria, civil aviation completely stopped. At one point the only way in and out of the country was the road to Beirut in Lebanon. Even that border crossing was closed for brief periods when fighting was at its most intense.
Then of course the COVID-19 pandemic came, and flights stopped again for six months, until October 2020. Again, for a brief period of time all land borders were also closed meaning there was no way in or out of Syria without special permission.
As we’re now learning to live with the coronavirus and most of the fighting has subsided, Syria is slowly opening up more and more to the outside world. This includes air travel and believe it or not, there are now two Syrian airlines in operation – SyrianAir and Cham Wings Airlines.
You don’t need to fly a local airline to Syria though, there are also several international airlines which provide daily flights to Damascus. Foreign airlines making regular scheduled flights to Syria include Badr Airlines, Fly Baghdad, Mahan Air, Pakistan International Airlines and UR Airlines.
Cham Wings Airlines
Cham Wings was founded in 2006 and was the first privately owned airline to ever operate out of Syria. The early to mid-2000s were a period of opening up for Syria, and this included market liberalisation. Nothing says market economics like a privately run airline. Originally Cham could only operate charter flights that were not in direct competition with the state run SyrianAir, meaning it struggled at first. Cham Wings even started a third carrier in partnership with SyrianAir to circumvent this, but it was a short-lived project.
As of 2022, Cham Wings currently operates international flights to Armenia, Iran, Iraq (Baghdad, Basra, Erbil, Najaf), Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Pakistan, Russia, Sudan and the UAE (Abu Dhabi and Sharjah). Cham Wings also offers domestic services to Aleppo, Latakia and Qamishli from Damascus.
Founded as Syrian Airlines, the country’s flag carrier was established in 1946, offering primarily regional and domestic services. SyrianAir has had a turbulent history (no pun intended). With the onset of the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, the airline came to a sudden stop, not offering services for three years. During the next few years they had many accidents and fatalities, until eventually in 1958 they merged with the Egyptian state carrier Misrair, to form United Arab Airlines.
In 1961 the United Arab Republic dissolved and so Syrian Airlines came into existence again. They began to expand quickly, adding new destinations such as Rome, Prague, Luxembourg, London, Paris, Athens, Istanbul and Delhi.
The six day war with Israel again suspended operations, however they quickly resumed operations and the 70s and 80s were a golden age for SyrianAir. During this time they increased flights to North Africa, the Warsaw Bloc and even North America.
During the 80s and 90s, Syria was accused of harbouring illegal groups, and as such sanctions were placed against SyrianAir meaning they had to stop flying to Europe and North America, and also had to replace their aging Boeings with Russian made planes, greatly hampering their operations. With the opening up of Syria in the early 2000s, flights again resumed to Europe, until of course the Syrian crisis started in 2011.
With the fighting in Syria being contained to the North and North East, SyrianAir has begun the process of expanding their routes once again. The Syrian flag carrier currently offers international flights to Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Qatar, Russia and the UAE, while also flying domestically from Damascus to Aleppo, Latakia and Qamishli.