The national carrier of Iran, IranAir, has outlined ambitious expansion plans for its domestic and international networks. While the domestic route network is periodically updated, international operations are rarely expanded. However, as new aircraft deliveries were made possible in 2017, IranAir started to look to expand its international flights. For example, new flights to Belgrade and Tbilisi were launched while five European destinations saw increased frequencies. Recent political developments have halted new aircraft deliveries to Iran, essentially leaving the Iranian airlines with an aging fleet and stagnating seat capacity. As the only airline that expanded its fleet with new aircraft during the short period it was possible, IranAir now has Iran’s youngest fleet and more capacity to utilize than before.
In August 2018, the airline took delivery of its last new aircraft from a series of sixteen. The delivery of thirteen ATR 72-600s, two Airbus A330-200s, and one Airbus A321 were made possible before sanctions were reimposed. As a majority of the twenty ATRs ordered was delivered, IranAir has been able to consider regional and domestic expansions. A number of new domestic routes have subsequently been launched, some of which are still active, others have been of a rather experimental nature. This still holds true today, nearly two and a half years after the first delivery of an ATR 72-600.
While there are no exact statistics on how many of the very first ATR 72-600 routes still are active, far from all of them have been successful. For example, about half of the ten new domestic routes from the new base in Bandar Abbas are still active. Flights between Tehran and Gorgan, Ilam, Nowshahr, Dezful, Ramsar, Rasht and Ahvaz, and Shiraz and Qeshm Island are also still active. Other routes, mainly to smaller and sometimes newly-opened airports, such as Kalaleh, Jask, Kashan, and Iranshahr have on the other hand been comparatively short-lived.
In December 2018, IranAir operated the first international ATR 72-600 flight as it launched a twice-weekly service between Tabriz and Baku, Azerbaijan. In October 2019, IranAir also operated a limited number of charter flights with ATR from Ilam and Kermanshah to Najaf, Iraq during the Arbaeen season. Today, the Baku service remains the only international ATR service.
The Ministry of Roads and Urban Development notes that IranAir has launched/resumed the following services, all operated by ATR in the past few days:
- Mashhad-Semnan, 1 weekly
- Tehran-Parsabad, 1 weekly
- Isfahan-Ramsar, 2 weekly
- Tehran-Gorgan-Zahedan, 1 weekly
- Tehran-Sabzevar, 2 weekly
- Yazd-Mashhad, 2 weekly
- Tehran-Khorramabad, 3 weekly
Moreover, IranAir plans to connect Tehran with Maku, Maragheh, Tabas, Bushehr, and Arak with Bushehr.
These new domestic routes have similar characteristics to the previous new routes; some turn out to be profitable, while others are of a rather experimental nature. This is because the establishment of many regional routes in Iran are, and has been, motivated by non-commercial factors for the airline, such as boosting the regional connectivity of remoter areas in terms of air traffic. For instance, Tinn reported in June 2018 that the five times weekly route between Tehran and Hamedan, operated by ATR 72-600, only had a passenger load of 21% since it was launch in April 2018, as people would rather choose a four-hour car drive.
In regard to international routes to neighbouring countries, planned routes are to be launched in the ‘near future’:
- Chabahar-Muscat (Oman)
- Bandar Abbas-Muscat (Oman)
- Urmia-Van (Turkey)
- Urmia-Erbil (Iraq)
- Kermanshah-Van (Turkey)
- Kermanshah-Erbil (Iraq)
- Ilam-Van (Turkey)
- Ilam-Erbil (Iraq)
- Mashhad-Lahore (Pakistan)
- Mashhad-Ashgabat (Turkmenistan)
- Shiraz-Muscat (Oman)
- Tehran-Baghdad (Iraq)
- Tehran-Ashgabat (Turkmenistan)
- Tehran-Muscat (Oman)
From Tehran Imam Khomeini Airport, IranAir plans to resume six international services. No timeline has been presented but initially, flights between Tehran and Rome will resume with two weekly flights as of 2 December 2019. The route has previously been operated by IranAir, mostly as a year-round service, but also seasonally or suspended during longer periods recently. The total number of flights between Iran and Italy has drastically decreased, mainly due to Alitalia pulling out from serving flights between Tehran and Rome, in addition to IranAir’s irregular operations to Rome. On the other hand, flights between Tehran and Milan have increased since IranAir increased from one to two weekly flights and Mahan Air launched a new twice-weekly service in 2015. However, as Italian authorities have decided to restrict Mahan Air’s operations from December 2019, a total of four weekly flights from Tehran to Milan and Rome will disappear.
Frequency changes in Iran-Italy air traffic:
- November 2016: Rome 8 weekly (IranAir 1, Alitalia 7), Milan 3 weekly (IranAir 1, Mahan Air 2)
- November 2019: Rome 2 weekly (Mahan Air 2), Milan 4 weekly (IranAir 2, Mahan Air 2)
- January 2020: Rome 2 weekly (IranAir 2), Milan 2 weekly (IranAir 2).
The other five destinations that IranAir plans to serve from Tehran are:
- Madrid, Spain
- Bangkok, Thailand
- Beijing, China
- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- Seoul, South Korea.
All of these destinations have previously been served by IranAir.
Last month, the Ministry of Road and Urban Development’s deputy minister Shahram Adamnejad said that IranAir has reported an IRR 41b operating profit so far this year. By expanding the fleet, reducing costs, and managing the route network more efficiently, the national carrier hopes to severalfold the operating profit next year. Expanding the fleet will indeed be crucial for IranAir since the current capacity is not enough for the outlined expansion, especially on European and Far East routes.