Mahan Air looks to China for future growth
Iran’s first privately-owned airline, Mahan Air, was established in 1992 and began operations the year after, and has only failed to post annual passenger growth once (in 1997) in its 20 year history. Having carried 5.1 million passengers last year, representing a near 5% increase over 2011 figures, the carrier has its eyes on further growth during 2013, with new routes to Guangzhou (adding to its thrice-weekly operation to Shanghai), launched on 19 May, helping to facilitate that goal.
Looking at the airline’s operational results for 2012, the carrier, which serves an Iranian population of 75m (approximately the same size as Turkey), has not had a bad last 12 months: “ASKs +14%; Movements +20%; Passengers carried +5%; Cargo +25%; System load factor +3% to 76%; Delays down 32%,” boasts a proud Hossein Hosseini, Mahan Air’s Director, Marketing and Route Development.
New routes to Iraq, Turkey, Malaysia and UAE
These impressive statistics have been contributed to by a busy period of route development, in what is a difficult environment for an airline where many markets remain firmly behind closed doors due to the economic sanctions placed on Iran. “Last year we expanded considerably in Turkey and Iraq, and you will see Mahan going deeply into these markets [increasing frequency] rather than adding destinations in the short term,” explains Hosseini. “That said, we have launched several new scheduled international routes in the last 12 months, from Tehran to Erbil [two flights per week], Ankara [3pw], Kuala Lumpur [3pw], and from Gheshm Island to Dubai [5pw]”.
Serving the UAE mega-hub, and now the carrier’s biggest route, has been an almost ever-present element of Mahan Air’s network (it was launched in 1998), proving that it is not afraid of taking on, and indeed living with, the likes of Emirates when it comes to competing on regional routes. The MEB3 stalwart flies thrice daily to Tehran in competition with Mahan Air’s 15-weekly service, as well as Iran Air and Iran Aseman Airlines’ eight and five weekly operations respectively.
However, not every launched route has been an unqualified success, with the airline culling two services from Iran’s second city of Mashad in the last year — namely weekly operations to both Kuala Lumpur (incidentally, Mashad’s sister city) and Bangkok. Mahan Air’s 24-route international network, which has also seen frequencies boosted in the last 12 months on existing routes to Istanbul, Shanghai, Bangkok and Dammam, is backed up by a 32-route domestic network, itself enhanced by new services to Gheshm Island, Rafsanjan and Sary.
European expansion planned
In terms of future route development, the airline will continue to look east from Iran, but Hosseini suggests a return to further points in Europe (in addition to its thrice weekly existing operation to Düsseldorf), as it has done in the past with flights to both Birmingham (started in 2004) and Manchester (2006) in the UK. “As the trade relationship is shifted from Europe to the Near and Far East, we are paying more attention to that area, and China in particular. At the same time, serving China calls for multiple European destinations to tap into their growing outbound market, therefore we cannot ignore Europe,” says Hosseini. He continues: “We are looking at opportunities at the moment, and we might have a new destination in Europe in late 2013 or early 2014.”