Tehran Imam Khomeini Airport has opened the long-awaited ‘Salam’ terminal, which will boost the airport’s capacity with five million annual passengers. The opening ceremony, attended by several high-ranking officials including the President, was held on 28 June 2019. President Rouhani praised the civil aviation industry’s efforts in spite of the difficulties and stressed its importance as a factor in the economy, connectivity, tourism, and developing Iran as a major transit point.
A few days later, on the first day of Tir 1398, which equals 22 June 2019, the first commercial flight boarded passengers from the brand-new terminal as IranAir’s Airbus A321 operating flight IR658, from Tehran to Dubai, departed at 08:00 local time. The national carrier plans to transfer its Kuwait flights to Salam terminal in the near future as Imam Khomeini Airport City (IKAC) anticipates to initially increase the terminal’s capacity to ten daily flights.
Shortly, IranAir will be joined by other domestic and international airlines as more are preparing themselves for a transfer to Salam terminal. Earlier this year prior to the inaugural, representatives from several airlines including Qatar Airways, Emirates, Iran Airtour Airlines, Pegasus Airlines, and China Southern Airlines visited the new terminal and expressed their interests. Qatar Airways, which increased its flights to Tehran and other cities this year, said that they have begun to study Salam terminal, which is capable to handle the Airbus A380 fleet. Iran Airtour Airlines, which also expanded its international route network from Tehran in May 2019 by launching a thrice-weekly service to Istanbul, looked forward to the inaugural of the terminal and said that the Istanbul frequency would soon increase to one daily flight.
Up to 27 June 2019, IranAir carried out one to two daily flights to Dubai from Salam terminal. Since then, IranAir still remains as the sole operator, but the frequency has increased as a share of the seasonal Hajj flights have been transferred to Salam terminal. Tehran-IKA will handle a total of 29 000 pilgrims from nine provinces until the Hajj departures end on 5 August 2019. The return flights from Jeddah and Medina to Tehran will take place between 17 August and 8 September 2019.
Previous years, Iran and Saudi Arabia were responsible for each half of the Hajj flights, where IranAir operated a quarter of the total flights and other Iranian airlines operated the other Iranian quarter. This year, IranAir has the full responsibility to carry out the Hajj flights as Saudi Arabian Airlines has withdrawn and no other Iranian airline has been granted permission from Saudi Arabia. As a result, other Iranian airlines have agreed to step forward to operate some of IranAir’s international while IranAir focuses on flying 86 550 pilgrims on 142 flights to Jeddah and 199 flights to Medina. Tehran-IKA will handle 30 000 of the pilgrims on 124 flights to Saudi Arabia. When returning, 186 flights will depart from Jeddah and 185 flights from Medina. IranAir’s Deputy Managing Director told Fars News that the all-Airbus Hajj flights from 17 cities, may or may not be profitable, but that it is not of importance for the Hajj opertions.
With the opening of a new terminal, IKAC has been keen on starting domestic flights. Currently, the newer Tehran Imam Khomeini Airport handles all international flights with some eight million annual passengers, while Tehran Mehrabad handles all domestic flights with some 17 million annual passengers. This has caused inconvenience for passengers wishing to transit from international to domestic flights in Tehran, as the two airports are 50 km apart and require extra travel arrangements. Initially, IKAC plans to start a few domestic flights from the airport’s first ‘Terminal 1’, which is due to change name, following the footsteps of the ‘Salam’ and the future major ‘Iranshahr’ terminals. A few airlines have requested to launch domestic flights, which could be any day now, and the first destinations are most likely to be Mashhad or Kish Island.
The newly-appointed head of Iran Airports Company (IAC) Siavash Amirmokri told IRNA that airports in Shiraz, Isfahan, Tabriz, and Mashhad have expressed interest in flights to Tehran-IKA but that it may not be profitable for any airline to launch such routes. Instead, he implied that international passengers would be more interested in travelling onwards to typical tourist destinations, but that it would require smaller aircraft types to make it profitable, something domestic airlines are lacking.
Both the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development and IKAC have been careful to underline that Tehran-IKA’s intention is not to supersede domestic flights from Mehrabad Airport. The main ambition for Tehran-IKA has been to operate domestic flights between 00:00 and 05:00 when Mehrabad Airport is closed for traffic due to noise restrictions. During those hours, Tehran-IKA also experiences some of its heaviest traffic, which could create demand for domestic flights by connecting international passengers. The CEO of IKAC has previously said that Tehran-IKA’s Terminal 1 would dedicate one of the air bridges for domestic flights.
As Mehrabad Airport is operating at full capacity, Tehran-IKA could be a viable alternative for some airlines. However, IAC’s Amirmokri said that they are negotiating to expand Mehrabad Airport and releasing some of the lands around the busy city airport.
Despite the recent negative trend in passenger numbers, Tehran-IKA has operated at overcapacity for several years as Terminal 1 is only suited for around five million annual passengers. The addition of Salam terminal’s capacity of five million annual passengers to Tehran-IKA will, therefore, be a long-overdue infrastructure. A major increase in capacity would be noticed in a few years when the Iranshahr terminal opens up with a capacity of 25 million annual passengers in its initial phase, and 90 million in the 20-year horizon after all phases are completed.
In conjunction with the opening of Salam terminal, the first phase of IKAC’s 1 500-hectare Free Trade Zone also launched operations. Facilities including the headquarter office, customs office, warehouses, and parking spaces were inaugurated.
Photo: Tehran Imam Khomeini Airport City