Iran could be an aviation paradise in medium term

Iran: a potential aviation paradise in medium term

Sanctions, and more, curtail Iran’s aviation development. But with a large population, a big area, large youth population, and slow overland transport, the potential is there for iran to be a significant player at some point in the future.

Iran is often in the news, but not for aviation.  This is mainly from the severe sanctions that impedes any real development, especially for Iranian operators.  It is, of course, these sanctions that prohibit the replacement of aircraft. Thus operating old aircraft – exciting to avgeeks! – and the inability to grow. Last year, Iran’s collection of small operators produced a median of just 700,000 domestic seats each across an expensive domestic network. Many, like Qeshm Airlines, are undiscussed internationally. 

Iran could be an aviation paradise in medium term when potential unlocked

Source: OAG Mapper.  While Iran’s domestic network looks expansive, it had only 17 million two-way seats in 2019. Tehran THR – Mashhad was by far the leading route, with 17% of the country’s domestic seats.

MD-80s provide one-third of Iran’s domestic seats

In 2019, the MD-83 was by far the leading aircraft domestically, with almost twice as many seats (4.2 million) as the second-placed Fokker 100 (2.3 million). MD-80s, of all series, had one-third of Iran’s domestic operation, while A300s (1.5 million) and A310s (720,000) played an important role. Saha Airlines ended B707 service in 2013, and in 2019 the B727 provided “only” 50,000 seats.  It is reported that more than 100 aircraft in Iran have been withdrawn and stripped for parts to enable the country’s fleet to continue.

In 2018, over 500 aircraft were said to be needed over the next ten years to replace existing aircraft and to grow. This wasn’t based on a highly stimulatory LCC, but it shows the potential. Given sanctions, the ability to finance them will be an enormous hurdle, although just before the New Year it was reported that Airbus will deliver three aircraft “in the very near future.”

Iran: a potential aviation paradise in the medium term?

Iran has much potential for aviation, at least in the medium, or longer, term.  It has the world’s 17th largest area and with 82 million people it’s the world’s 18th most populous nation.  Tehran itself has almost 16 million in its metro area. And, crucially, the country has slow overland transport, even between relatively close cities geographically. For example, Tehran to Tabriz is 390 miles – about 50 minutes flying – yet takes almost seven hours overland.  At less than 800 miles, Mashhad – Abadan is one of the longest possible sectors in the country, probably enabling significant daily aircraft and labour utilisation. There are also large numbers of Iranian diaspora regionally.  With over 60% of Iranian citizens under 30 years’ old, it seems that Iran could – in the future – be ripe for a “proper” LCC.

Tehran – Mashhad #1 domestic route; Iran Aseman #1 domestic airline

But to the present. Tehran Mehrabad (THR), the domestic airport, has nearly eight in ten domestic seats and is in all of the top-10 routes.  The first not involving Tehran THR is Mashhad – Isfahan, in eleventh, linking the country’s second- and third-largest cities. That it has “only” 251,000 seats last year indicates the undeveloped state of the country – inevitably, of course, for now.

Top-10 domestic airlines Top-10 domestic routes
Airline Total seats Route Total seats
Iran Aseman 3,813,000 Mashhad – Tehran THR 2,865,000
Mahan Air 3,630,000 Shiraz – Tehran THR 1,389,000
Zagros Airlines 2,480,000 Ahwaz – Tehran THR 1,350,000
Caspian Airlines 2,061,000 Kish – Tehran THR 1,131,000
Iran Air 1,611,000 Kerman – Tehran THR 712,000
Iran AirTour 1,218,000 Assaluyeh* – Tehran THR 595,000
Meraj Airlines 652,000 Bandar Abbas – Tehran THR 523,000
ATA Airlines 518,000 Tabriz – Tehran THR 493,000
Varesh Airlines 478,000 Kermanshah – Tehran THR 407,000
Qeshm Airlines 463,000 Isfahan – Tehran THR 270,000
Source: OAG Schedules Analyser. * Also called Persian Gulf Airport.


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