The Association of Iranian Airlines (AIRA) announced that all Iranian airlines will suspend their services to Najaf in Iraq as of July due to exceptional high airport fees. Since 2010, all flights landing at Al Najaf International Airport must pay a fee of $85 in addition to the existing fees. Furthermore, the airlines are obliged to pay $15 per passenger apart from the $10 per passenger paid by themselves upon arrival at the airport.
Maqsoud Asadi Samani, the Secretary of AIRA added that the aircraft ground handling and fuel costs at the Iraqi airport are about four times more expensive than in Iran. The ground handling cost per flight varies between $14,000 and $18,000 per flight while the fuel cost is $0,98 per gallon.
The Iranian airlines have voiced their complaints to the two civil aviation authorities in Iran and Iraq and meetings have been held but without result. Formal complaints were also submitted to Iraq’s Civil Aviation Authority, however, Najaf Airport’s management is determined by keeping the fees. The authority has limited rights to interfere in the airport’s activities since it is a privately held company. So as to the situation is exclusive to Najaf Airport, the flights to Baghdad and other airports are not affected.
The high airport fees only make the pilgrimages more expensive, it is an ‘abusive behaviour’ that Najaf Airport should reflect on, said AIRA’s Secretary Maqsoud Asadi Samani.
As a result of the unsuccessful negotiations, the Iranian airlines have decided to suspend their Najaf flights as of 1 July 2017 until Najaf Airport change their policy towards Iranian airlines and lower air fares can be made possible. A majority of AIRA’s fifteen airline members operate flights to and from Najaf on a regular basis.
Najaf, which has holy sites highly revered by Shiites and Karbala, another holy city, a few kilometres north of it is a popular destination amongst Iranians. Later this year, Iranians will once again be able to fly to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage to Mecca as the two countries have agreed to carry out direct flights during Hajj 2017. Although, it is unclear whether Mahan Air is allowed to operate a share of the flights as the Saudi civil air authorities specifically banned the airline from all activities in the country last year. Saudi Arabia and Iran stopped direct flights after severing diplomatic ties in January 2016.