An American-owned aviation company is offering direct commercial flights between Kuwait City and the military side of Baghdad International Airport, officials announced this week.

Gryphon Airlines, a freight and charter firm headquartered in Vienna, Va., flew its first civilian charter from Kuwait to Baghdad on Feb. 25, and now offers the service three days per week.

The president and CEO of the company said in a news release that the firm is employing both aviation industry and military veterans to fly, staff and service the routes.

The goal, Chief Executive Officer Earl Gibbs said, is to provide “safe, reliable and comfortable transportation into the Iraq theater.”

While several commercial airlines have operated flights into and out of Baghdad airport since the war began, they are on the commercial side of the airport. (And flights to northern cities such as Irbil have been going since December 2003.)

Despite the relatively short distance between the two operations, travelers still often require armed security escorts to make it from one side to the other.

The military side of BIAP is connected to the other large U.S. bases making up the complex.

The Gryphon flights are open to “all personnel holding authorization to enter and transit Sather Air Force Base” at BIAP, the company said in its news release.

Gryphon touts its service as a way for people to travel directly from the U.S. military complex to the commercial Kuwait City airport, then on to Europe or the United States. For example, a traveler can get on a 9:15 p.m. flight from Baghdad, then catch a connection and be in Washington, D.C., by 6:30 a.m. on a long-haul carrier.

According to booking information on the company’s Web site, a nonrefundable ticket for the flights costs $550. A government rate is available, but that price was not on the bookings site.

Most of the government-rate tickets are sold out for weeks in advance, according to the online booking system.

The flights are on ATR 72 aircraft, officials said. That airframe is French-built and can seat up to 72 passengers, according to information on its manufacturer’s Web site.

Gryphon is not new to flying in Iraq. According to company officials, it already flies to cities including Balad and Mosul, along with flights to Kabul and Kandahar in Afghanistan.

Gryphon is partnering with Swiftair, another air transport company, to run the Iraq service.

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