Iran is once set to send Iranian pilgrims to this year’s Hajj in Saudi Arabia, after having been unable to in 2016 due to deepening tensions between the two nations. Over 86,000 pilgrims are planned to depart from 20 Iranian airports to destination Jeddah and Medina from what will be a resumption of direct air links. Last time an Iranian passenger aircraft landed in Saudi Arabia, and vice versa, was in December 2015 before the severing of ties. Although this will only be a charter service exclusively for the Hajj season, it can be seen as a step towards normalisation in aviation ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The share of flights was originally divided equally between Iran and Saudi Arabia, however, Iran Airports Company (IAC) recently reported that Saudi Arabia reduced its share to 30%. Iran’s 70% share has fully been claimed by the national carrier IranAir.
While no detailed plans about Saudi Arabia’s flight operations to Iran have been announced, IranAir declared in early July that it is ready to transport some 43,000 pilgrims. During previous years, IranAir used its Boeing 747 fleet to fly Hajj pilgrims but with the entire fleet being retired, the airline changes focus to a plain operation of Airbus aircraft to Saudi Arabia. However, the airline’s new Airbus A330 will not be deployed to Jeddah and Medina, unless in emergency cases, IranAir’s previous Chairman & Managing Director, Farhad Parvaresh made clear in the press release. Last week, IranAir’s newly appointed Chairwoman & Managing Director, Farzaneh Sharafbafi announced that a team responsible for the Hajj operations has been stationed in Saudi Arabia.
IranAir’s new Airbus A330 fleet, currently composed of two aircraft, has replaced the Airbus A300 and A310 on operations to European destinations Gothenburg, Stockholm, Paris, Frankfurt and Hamburg. The airline’s sole A321 will also perform flights to Europe once again, diverting a majority of the remaining load operated by the Airbus A300 and A310. Even though the Airbus A300 and A310 fleets now are better available for Hajj operations, IranAir will still be forced to suspend a number of domestic routes to shift the capacity to Hajj. For example, IranAir’s Friday service on the Tehran – Birjand – Tehran route will be suspended from 4 August to 22 September, as reported by YJC.
Departure flights from Iran are scheduled to run from 31 July to 26 August and the returning flights from 7 to 26 September, reports Iran Civil Aviation Organization. The airports’ respective passenger share is estimated as follows: Tehran-IKA 25,200; Mashhad 10,400; Gorgan 8,000; Isfahan 6,400; Ahvaz 5,000; Shiraz 3,700; Sari 3,500; Hamedan 3,600; Tabriz 3,240; Kerman 2,900; Urmia 2,700; Yazd 2,400; Zahedan 2,100; Bandar Abbas 1,600; Birjand 1,600; Kermanshah 1,300; Zanjan 1,100; Bushehr 1,060; Rasht 810 and Ardabil 795.
As many of the Iranian airports are handling extra flights during the summer season and in general an increased number of scheduled flights, 2017 may become a record year. Iran Civil Aviation Organization (CAO.IRI) warned that due to complications at Jeddah and Medina airports, some of the Iranian airports will witness up to 6 times more Hajj traffic during specific days.
Mashhad Airport announced that the airport will handle a total of 74 Hajj flights with start on 6 August, all exclusively operated by Saudi Arabian Airlines’ Airbus A330 aircraft.
On 4 April 2016, the Saudi General Authority for Civil Aviation announced that Mahan Air was banned from performing flights within its airspace.
Photo: Shahram Sharifi