Iranian Aviation: The MD-80 Provides 41% Of Domestic Capacity

Iran is often in the news, but not for aviation. This is mainly from the severe sanctions that impede any real development, including growth. Of course, these sanctions also prohibit the proper replacement of aircraft, so Iranian airlines normally operate older aircraft – exciting for avgeeks! We delve into Iran’s domestic scene and see that the country might be an aviation paradise at some point in the future.

Iranian Aviation: The MD-80 Provides 41% Of Domestic Capacity
The MD-80 series reigns supreme in Iran. This example, EP-EDC, is going strong. At almost 30 years old, it has flown for China Northern, China Southern, Ararat International, Taban Air, and, since 2013, Iran Airtour. Flightradar24 shows that it last few commercially on August 9th. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia

This summer, Iran’s domestic market has 12.4 million seats spread across 13 carriers, according to OAG schedules information. Most airlines providing this capacity are undiscussed internationally, such as Zagros Airlines, Taban Air, and Varesh Airlines. With a median domestic capacity of just 1.2 million seats per operator, each has only a limited network, despite what looks to be an extensive overall network.

Iran's domestic network in summer 2021
This is Iran’s domestic network scheduled in summer 2021. The country’s median domestic sector length is just 438 miles. Image: OAG Mapper

MD-80 provides 41% of domestic capacity

The MD-82 is by far the leading aircraft domestically this summer, with nearly three times more seats (2.6 million) as number-two, the Fokker 100 (1.2 million). MD-80s, of all series, have about four in ten domestic seats, while the A300 and A310 continue to play an important role. So too do Classic Boeing 737s, the -300, -400, and -500.

Saha Airlines ended B707 service in 2013, while the B727 isn’t operated any longer (but in 2019, it provided 50,000 domestic seats). Earlier this summer, OAG indicates that Mahan Air used the B747-300 on the 651-mile link from Tehran Mehrabad to Kish, among other routes. It is reported that more than 100 aircraft in Iran have been withdrawn and stripped for parts to enable the country’s fleet to continue.

Mahan Air B747
Earlier this summer, Mahan Air used the B747-300 domestically from Tehran’s domestic airport, Mehrabad, mainly to Kish. Photo: Danial Haghgoo via Wikimedia.

500 aircraft needed

In 2018, long before COVID, it was said that 500 aircraft were needed over the next ten years to replace Iran’s existing aircraft and to grow. This wasn’t based on a fast-growing low-cost carrier (LCC) that would stimulate demand, but it shows the country’s potential. Given sanctions, the ability to finance them will be an enormous hurdle.

Kish Air Fokker F100
Iranian airlines continue to be important users of the Fokker 100 due to sanctions. Photo: Getty Images

Iran: a potential aviation paradise?

Iran has much potential for aviation, at least in the medium or longer term. It has the world’s 17th largest geographic area, and with 82 million people, it’s the world’s 18th most populous nation. The capital, Tehran, has almost 16 million in its metro area.

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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 to Abadan is one of the longest possible sectors in the country, meaning that significant daily aircraft and labor utilization could be achieved (in theory).

There are also large numbers of Iranian diaspora regionally for international operations. And with over 60% of Iranian citizens under 30 years old, it seems that Iran could – in the future – be ripe for a ‘proper’ LCC.

Iran Air Airbus A321
This A321, EP-IFA, was delivered to Iran Air in 2017 and is currently inactive. Photo: Getty Images.

Tehran Mehrabad to Mashhad is the #1 route

Tehran Mehrabad (THR), the Iranian capital’s domestic airport, has nearly eight in ten domestic seats this summer and is in all of the top-10 routes, as shown below. The number-one route is Mehrabad to Mashhad, some 468 miles apart, linking the nation’s two largest cities.

  1. Tehran Mehrabad-Mashhad
  2. Tehran Mehrabad-Ahvaz
  3. Tehran Mehrabad-Shiraz
  4. Tehran Mehrabad-Kish
  5. Tehran Mehrabad-Ayatollah
  6. Tehran Mehrabad-Bandar Abbas
  7. Tehran Mehrabad-Assaluyeh (Persian Gulf Airport)
  8. Tehran Mehrabad-Bushehr
  9. Tehran Mehrabad-Zahedan
  10. Tehran Mehrabad-Tabriz

What do you think the future of Iran’s domestic market is? Let us know in the comments.