Syrian Pearl

Syrian Pearl, a joint venture of Cham Holding, Syrianair, Kuwaiti company Aqeeq Aviation, and several individual investors, was Syria’s first private scheduled airline. Operations began on May 4, 2009, using BAe 146-300 EC-JVO wet-leased from Spanish airline Orionair, with a second example following a week later. Initial services focus on domestic routes from Damascus, with three daily roundtrips to Aleppo and two daily roundtrips to Deir el-Zor and al-Qamishli, as well as a twice weekly roundtrip to Lattakia. Regional and international destinations were to be added later. However, the US government has formally objected to Orionair’s lease of BAe 146s to Syrian Pearl, deeming it to be a “re-export” in violation of a trade embargo imposed on the country. As a result of the US action, BAE Systems, Flybe (which was preparing EC-JVJ for service in Syria), and others were forced to withdraw support from Orionair to avoid falling foul of the same restrictions. The Syrian government, however, insisted that Orionair fulfill its contract and refused it permission to recover the 146. For a time, Orionair’s crews were also prevented from leaving. Following the intervention of the Spanish Foreign Ministry, they were finally allowed to depart in mid June. The unfortunate EC-JVO, however, remained blocked at Damascus Airport.