Known to his friends as ‘Nariman The Pilot’ two of his designs have taken to the skies with him at the controls. In 2007, Nariman was given the Youth Of The Year Award for his great creative capacity by the Kurdistan Ministry of Youth and Sport. News of his feat even reached the Kurdistan Regional Government’s President, Massoud Barzani, who recently arranged a personal audience with the aircraft builder.
‘The President asked me how he could support talented people in the region,’ says Nariman. ‘I asked him to open a centre for people with talent in the region. I know so many talented people in Kurdistan who just need a boost to fulfil it.’
Nariman is one person who continued to pursue his dream despite facing many obstacles. He never went to university because of his family’s poverty and instead joined his father’s company as an apprentice electrician.
There were many other problems, too. His very first plane was built just a year after Iraqi troops were driven out of Kuwait. He continued on his path throughout the sanctions period and onwards after the US-led invasion of 2003.
Despite Iraq remaining under the UN’s Chapter 7 provisions, which have hampered his progress, Nariman has produced two flying aircraft, the Zodiac and his latest, the slightly worryingly-named Stall 710SH. He was able, at great expense, to obtain many parts from abroad with the help of the KRG, from countries including the USA, France, Germany and the Ukraine.
‘Making planes cost me a lot of money. I sold all my possessions, including my house. In the beginning, no on helped me with money,’ says Nariman.
‘When people noticed that I was successful, people like the Erbil Governor, Nawzad Hadi, did, as well as a couple of prominent businessmen. Now, the President [Massoud Barzani] is my biggest support.’
The planes that Nariman made went through hours of testing on the ground and were subject to numerous approvals from the Kurdish Interior Ministry along with aviation authorities before they could take to the sky. Nariman, however always had complete faith in his designs and was confident they would fly safely.
‘I have never felt any danger when flying,’ he boasts. ‘I’m not scared of taking my planes into the air. If I were scared, I would not make them in the first place.’
He has rarely suffered any worrying moments while flying his designs but it has still taken some time to gain the full confidence of his family and friends, who, in the early days, felt nervous about joining him for flights.
‘When I first built my plane, people were afraid to fly with me. They doubted the quality but now they are much less scared,’ he reveals.
While it is understandable that the homemade aircraft might have put some people off in the beginning, Nariman built his skills on courses with some of the world’s top engineers in huge companies such as Bosch in Germany and Aston Martin, a British sports car manufacturer. He has also worked in Turkey and at the Zinth Air Plane Manufacturing Company in China. The KRG President is helping Nariman to continue his progress.
‘When President Barzani visited Germany recently, he asked Airbus to open a training course for me. Soon I will go back to Germany to be trained by Airbus for six months,’ Nariman explains.
The course will enable Nariman to bring back even more skills to his small team of assistants who have worked with him so far on plane building. He currently has four apprentices, all of whom he has tried to develop as manufacturers in their own right. Nariman’s ambitions, though, extend beyond continuing to build homemade aircraft with his small team. He hopes to move onwards and start building an aircraft manufacturing factory in Harir, a sub-district of Erbil.
‘About 150 people will work in the factory,’ he says. ‘A university degree is not essential but it is important that everyone working there can show their talent, that they have energy and a real desire to work.’
With the help of the KRG, who hope to use Nariman’s aircraft in agriculture, tourism and for their police force, Nariman hopes that the new factory will help foster a manufacturing industry in Kurdistan and also make a name for the region as home to a genuinely creative population. He is designing aircraft that he hopes are specifically suited to the Kurdish environment.
‘We have a few slightly different designs for Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) aircraft. The reason I decided to build STOL aircraft is because they work particularly well with Kurdistan’s geography. We will build two-, four- and six-seat planes mainly for use by the government.’
The young innovator has come a long way since building his ‘small, red, radio-controlled plane’ back in 1992. He now hopes that his resilience and relentless determination will make things easier for future generations of designers, who will not have to go through the same hardships as him.
‘Here in Kurdistan, you only get support and encouragement when you are already successful. There needs to be more help for people trying to get started,’ he advises. ‘Talented people must never quit when trying to fulfill their dreams. When I told people I was going to build and fly my own plane, people told me I was crazy. Now, of course, they congratulate me.’
As Iraq opens up to the rest of the world and as more individual examples like Nariman appear to prove the possibilities that exist for Iraqis, a real opportunity will grow for Iraq’s manufacturing industries and reputation for innovation to take-off.