People, Travel

S. Korean Flag Carriers Vie for Tehran Route

S. Korean Flag Carriers Vie for Tehran RouteS. Korean Flag Carriers Vie for Tehran Route

Korean Air and Asiana Airlines are jostling for the new route to Tehran now that international sanctions against Iran have been eased.

Both airlines on Wednesday said they applied for a license to operate four weekly flights from Incheon International Airport to the Iranian capital. Both companies hope to operate passenger and cargo planes.

The Financial Tribune first reported South Korea’s interest in launching Tehran flights last month.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport will award the license to only one operator after a meeting on Friday. Industry insiders project demand for the route at around 65,000 passengers a year, the Seoul-based daily The Chosun Ilbo reported.

If approved, it will mark the first regular flight by a Korean national flag carrier into Iran since 1973 when Korean Air cargo aircraft landed in the country once.

“The two airlines believe this new route is a breakthrough opportunity as they struggle to compete against foreign airlines and low cost carriers,” one insider said.

The two countries signed an aviation agreement in 1998 to allow commercial air flights of each country to serve the route up to four times a week. But there were no actual flights by Korean national flag carriers due to weak demand and the international economic sanctions.

Asiana is desperate for an opportunity to branch out to the Middle East, where it operates no flights so far. The airline has restructured itself by discontinuing money-losing routes and consolidating local offices to normalize its business. But it is said to have decided to add the Seoul-Tehran route based on the strong will of Kumho Asiana Group Chairman Park Sam-koo.

Park is known to have determined the route expansion after visiting Iran to participate in the Maekyung-Iran Forum held in Tehran on February 28-29.

The Korean government also expects demands for air travel between the two countries to increase sharply following the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran. The ministry already proposed Iran to expand air travel from current four times a week to seven times, Pulse News reported.

There is currently no direct passenger flight between Korea and Iran. Iran Air used to fly Tehran-Incheon via Beijing from December 2002 until October 2007, but the service stopped when the West imposed sanctions against Iran.

Korean Air also ran irregular cargo flights in the 1970s.