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Less no - flight zones and a less threatening environment

Maintaining Overflights

Mohammad Ilkhani was elected to captain the country’s Civil Aviation Organization five years ago, but with two planes crashing with less than ten days he was ousted after the first ۷۲ days of his inauguration. It was later suggested that his sudden dismissal in ۲۰۰۹ was a result of his disagreements with the then Roads and Transportation minister and deputy minister and had nothing to do with the crashes.

Translated by: Ali Arsalan Shahla

Mohammad Ilkhani was elected to captain the country's Civil Aviation Organization five years ago, but with two planes crashing with less than ten days he was ousted after the first 72 days of his inauguration. It was later suggested that his sudden dismissal in 2009 was a result of his disagreements with the then Roads and Transportation minister and deputy minister and had nothing to do with the crashes. However, the media branded Ilkhani the most unfortunate manager in transportation sector and some even went on to claim that he brought bad luck to the industry. Ilkhani is once again back at the helm of a senior transportation organization in the country. This time around, he is fared better than most expected, as less than four months after appointing Abbas Akhoundi as the director of Iranian Airports Holding Company by his decree, Iran's airspace has become the host to many international flights and a new record of flights has been set for the country with having an unprecedented 684 overflights within 24 hours. Read the interview of Tejarat-e-Farda with the managing director of Iranian Airports Holding Company below.



Malaysian Airlines' plane crash in Ukraine has led many airlines to redirect their flights through Iran's airspace and the new record of flights in the country's sky speaks for itself. There were concerns that this new window of opportunity might fade away and the airlines which have opted Iran's airspace may find an alternative flight path under the disguise of adhering to the sanctions. What are the plans of Civil Aviation Organization for maintaining and building on the already remarkable number of overflights through the country's airspace?
We possess incredible potential. Our particular position in the regions lets us connect Central Asia to the Middle East and vice versa. We can also let in the overflights from Central and Northern Europe to the Far East. Naturally, most international organizations are not willing to see the country's aviation industry prosper, and yet they do not have a choice but to admit to Iran's strategic position. Moreover, many of them have approached us and requested flight permission through the country's airspace. As a result of Malaysia Airlines' tragic plane crash in Ukraine, most international airlines inevitably tried to reroute their flight and find alternative flight paths. Immediately after the plane crash, the local office of International Civil Aviation Organizations (ICAO) in Cairo asked for flight permission from their Iranian counterparts. Soon after, several airlines from Northern Europe followed in the footsteps of ICAO and Iranian officials responded with open arms.

How many new overflights have we had ever since?
We had an immediate rise of 15-16 percent in the first wave of overflights from Ukraine to Iran. At the same time, on the wake of terrorists' onslaught in Iraq, several renowned international airways such as Qantas (Australia) turned to Iran's safe flight paths through ICAO and IATA (International Air Transport Association) and we provided the opportunity. Following the turnover, the number of overflights reached an all time high of 684 flights within 24 hours, while the previous record was more 204 flights shy of the new record. 684 flights in a twenty-four-hour time frame is an unprecedented achievement for the country's aviation industry.

What is your estimation of Iranian Airports Holding Company's revenues after the recent turn of event?
The Holding's revenues depend on several factors. To speculate on flight duties allowance, we need to know about the tonnage of planes and the distance they travel. Therefore, each passing plane could add anything from $50 to $2000 to national revenues. My rough estimation is $50 million until the end of the year, which I believe to be a realistic number should the current situation persist.

Let's get back to the first question. What are your plans for maintaining the current load of overflights and taking advantage of this new window of opportunity?
We are trying our best not to let domestic conflicts have an impact on the country's currently thriving aviation industry. We are striving to make IATA and ICAO realize our huge potentials in the region and reassure them of a safe investment in Iran's airspace. Thus, we predicted a 30-percent increase in overflights revenues, but not only did we manage to surpass our early prediction, but also the revenues reached beyond 40 percent. We held a productive meeting with ICAO officials in Cairo in order to extend negotiations with IATA with the aim of maintaining and increasing the loads of overflights passing through the country's airspace. The neighboring countries should be wary that recent achievements of Iran's aviation industry does not merely stem from the insecurity of Iraq or Ukraine's flight paths, but that we must give the credit where it is due. Through the talks with IATA officials, we will insist on the quality of our services and the efficiency of flying through the country's airspace for many airlines. We are extremely eager to cooperate with all airlines around the world and extend our top-notch services.

What are the benefits of flying through Iran's flight paths for international airlines?
The biggest and most important advantage would be cost-effectiveness, which translates into shorter routes, less fuel to burn and to pay for and ultimately more benefits for airlines. Flying through Iran's airspace will cut down the distance of many aerial journeys, should the airlines fly directly through the country's airspace with rerouting.

What are the reasons behind Iran offering indirect flights?
Sadly, Iran's political condition was unstable in the past few years and there were numerous no-flight zones around the country. Therefore, a lot of flights had to opt for indirect routes. The issue inevitably increased flight hours and made international airlines turn away from Iran's airspace. We have attempted to reduce the number of no-flight zones in the past few months. Fortunately, we have been relatively successful at doing so and a number of direct flight paths are resurrected. Iran's airspace is and will be the best passage for international airlines, should we hold on to the routes.

In terms of airport tariffs, do you plan on putting incentives to attract more international airlines to Iran?
We have the flexibility to discount tariffs in case airlines decide to redirect their flights through Iran's airway. Legally speaking, the measure will be possible as well.

Considering little development of airport infrastructure and high depreciation of equipments in some of the aging airports of the country, can we possibly expect to move on the road to development as a consequence of the recent turnover?
We have anticipated a $250 million investment for the renovation navigation infrastructure. We have 90 airways, 57 thousand km. long in the country. We already posses 10 radar systems for transportations and 6 radar systems to cover secure take-offs and landings at the airports. Furthermore, 160 navigation aids are installed in all domestic airports. ICAO has advised us to invest overflights income in upgrading navigation and monitoring systems. Thanks to the efforts of 40 Iranian experts over the past two years, a roadmap has been prepared in two volumes. We are already purchasing infrastructure equipments based on the roadmap and we are looking forward to improving our navigation systems as well and that is the key to attract more airlines and increase the country's air traffic.

What is the capacity of Iran's airspace for overflights at the moment?
Currently 750 flights a day and only around 10-15 percent of this capacity is available.

The Holding's exchange revenues has remarkably increased and it seems that we will be able to maintain the current load of overflights in near future, but the Holding is facing the growing challenge of Iranian airlines' debts. What measures are you planning to take to prevent airlines from evasion?
We are going to have a meeting with the directors of all Iranian airlines. The meeting will be an excellent opportunity to set a deadline for airlines to cleat their debts. We do not allow debtors to have extra flights under any circumstance and they can operate only within their standard frameworks. Domestic airlines will have to propose a method for clearing their debts. They need to understand that we cannot simply turn a blind eye on a collective non-payment worth $600 billion. As the government's representative in Iranian Airports Holding Company, I am accountable for a series of commitments. Naturally, I won't be able to do my job properly if the revenues are not specified and consequently, airports development plan will come to a halt. The Minister is also positive that we will find a way to settle with airlines on their debts. We expect airlines to cooperate with us, because we are all a chain together; if airlines fail to pay their debts, the government will be unable to improve airport infrastructure and with the quality of airports at stake, airlines will have a hard time offering profitable services. Therefore, airlines need to fulfill their commitments, or they will be the ones at the receiving end of low-quality services.

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