Qatar Airways to Expand Iran Flights, Launch Isfahan Route

Qatar Airways has announced a major expansion as it will resume flights to Isfahan, its fourth destination in Iran, while boosting the number of weekly flights to Tehran and Shiraz in 2019. In April 2016, Aviation Iran reported that Isfahan Airport is in talks with Qatar Airways regarding the resumption of flights to Doha. The news comes after that a majority of international airlines have decided to either cut back or suspend services to Iran following the new economic and political climate.

Seven years ago in October, Qatar Airways made a similar announcement stating the launch of flights to Isfahan, as well as an increase in flights to Tehran, Shiraz, and Mashhad. The details were as follows.

Destination Frequency Effective
Isfahan New, 7 weekly January 2012
Tehran 14 → 21 weekly March 2012
Shiraz 2 → 10 weekly March 2012
Mashhad 5 → 14 weekly March 2012

Thereby Qatar Airways increased the number of flights from 21 to 52 (+150%) per week. The route to Tehran was launched in 2004, Mashhad in 2006, and Shiraz in 2011.

Today, Qatar Airways no longer operates flights to Isfahan, has reduced Shiraz frequency to four weekly, Mashhad to daily, and operates 18 weekly flights to Tehran.

Destination Frequency
Tehran 18 weekly
Shiraz 4 weekly
Mashhad 7 weekly

However, during November 2017 – November 2018, Qatar Airways planned to operate Airbus A330 instead of A320 on flights between Doha and Shiraz, which would increase the seating capacity by 81%. According to own estimations in October 2018, this resulted in a 70% increase in seat capacity, on a year-over-year comparison. It could be noted that Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 would have operated most of the flights to Shiraz, while the Airbus A320 still had a fair share of around 27% of the period’s operations, despite plans to be entirely replaced by the A330. With one month to go until A320 operations would resume in November 2018, Qatar Airways operated a one-off Airbus A350-900 flight, marking the aircraft type’s first-ever visit to Shiraz.
Although being a rare sight in Shiraz during the one-year period, this was a rather frequent occurrence in Tehran. As of January 2018, Qatar Airways started to operate more and more widebody aircraft flights to Tehran. On 16 January 2018, the very first scheduled Boeing 787-8 flight landed at Tehran Imam Khomeini Airport. Six days later the first Airbus A350-900 visited Tehran, and the first Airbus A350-1000 on 3 July 2018.

Albeit the frequency reduction from 21 to 18 weekly flights on the Tehran route, the total seating capacity has increased since widebody aircraft now operate most of the rotations. During a normal week, in this example 26 November – 3 December 2018, Boeing 787 operates seven flights, Airbus A320 four flights, Boeing 777 three flights, Airbus A350 two flights, and Airbus A330 two flights. This makes it one of the world’s shortest routes to be operated by this diverse widebody aircraft types. A while back, Airbus A320 and A330 would be the most frequent aircraft types on this route, with Boeing 777 only operating at its peak during the Persian New Year in March/April. Moreover, Qatar Airways operates dedicated Boeing 777 cargo flights to Tehran twice a week.

This time around, Qatar Airways announced a similar expansion as in 2011 but with what can be considered to be less ambitious but more realistic plans. The route to Mashhad remains steady at one daily flight, operated by Airbus A320.

Destination Frequency Effective
Isfahan New, 2 weekly 4 February 2019
Tehran 18 → 20 weekly 4 January 2019
Shiraz 4 → 7 weekly 2 January 2019

The new route between Doha and Isfahan, effective 4 February 2019, will be operated twice-weekly each Monday and Friday by an Airbus A320, featuring 132 seats in Economy Class and 12 seats in Business Class. The flight departs from Doha at 01:45 and arrives in Isfahan at 04:00, with the return flight departing from Isfahan at 05:10, and arriving in Doha at 06:25.

The return of Qatar Airways also reconnects Isfahan to the Oneworld alliance of over 1000 destinations and 150 countries. This comes as Star Alliance member Turkish Airlines recently decreased the weekly frequency on flights to Istanbul from seven to four weekly flights. Turkish Airlines is currently Isfahan Airport’s major international carrier, relying greatly on connecting international passengers. During Summer 2019, Turkish Airlines plans to operate six weekly flights to Isfahan, up one weekly flight compared with Winter 2018/2019, but totally down one on a year-over-year basis. As of September 2018, Austrian Airlines is no longer serving flights between Vienna and Isfahan as the Iranian airport’s only European route (excl. Istanbul) was unprofitable.

Tehran’s two new weekly and Shiraz’s three new weekly flights will be operated by essentially the same mix of aircraft types as today.

“These latest launches are further evidence of Qatar Airways’ commitment to Iran, as well as the expansion of our network in this thriving market to provide greater connectivity to both business and leisure passengers alike.”, Qatar Airways Group CEO Mr. Akbar Al Baker said.

In the previous article, a list of airlines scaling back or suspending operations in Iran was published. In addition, Aegean Airlines has left Tehran, flydubai replaced Emirates in Mashhad, Lufthansa will downgrade the aircraft type to Airbus A340-300 on Tehran flights, Alitalia has reduced the number of Tehran flights to five weekly, and Emirates has reduced the number of Tehran flights from four to three weekly flights. In conclusion, I wrote that airlines such as Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways will take advantage of the situation.

Since then, Turkish Airlines has decreased the number of weekly flights from seven to four in Winter 2018/2019 and to six (may change) in Summer 2019 on services to Shiraz, Mashhad, Tabriz, and Isfahan, and 31 weekly flights instead of 35 to Tehran in Winter 2018/2019. As opposed, Qatar Airways will expand operations to three destinations and maintaining the frequency on one destination, where the competitor Turkish Airlines will cut back capacity on all four destinations. Furthermore, Qatar Airways will continue to use widebody aircraft on flights to Tehran, while Turkish Airlines schedules a downgrade from Airbus A330 to Airbus A320 on the majority of all flights.

As it seems today, Qatar Airways will be the airline to fill in some of the void left by a number of major international airlines. Whether it will succeed, or repeat the outcome of the evidently overambitious 2011 announcement—especially in Iran’s current state—remains to be seen.


Photo: Qatar Airways