The Forgotten Hotspots Of Iran – Two Routes Where Nine Airlines Operate

Except for when something unfortunate happens, or when the national carrier starts auctioning 747s, aviation in Iran doesn’t make the news much. But the country is home to a normally buoyant domestic aviation market. 2020 has upended things, but last year, Iran had two routes included in the world’s top ten toughest domestic airline routes. They were between Mashhad and Tehran, and Ahwaz and Tehran.

IranAir rescue flight getty
Earlier this year, Iran was home to two of the toughest domestic airline routes in the world. Photo: Getty Images

Iran usually a hotbed of airline competition

We dug this little nugget of information out of the OAG report, Busiest Routes 2020, which has been formed on the basis of 2019s traffic levels. What makes a route tough? The degree of competition is one measure.

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There were a couple of interesting takeouts from this report. Seven of the top ten toughest domestic routes were in China, including the top route between Jinghong to Kunming. Twelve airlines fight for business on this route. The sixth toughest domestic airline route in the world was that between Mashhad and Tehran. The route between Ahwaz and Tehran took eighth place. On both routes, nine airlines were competing.

Iran is a hotbed of airline competitiveness. You might think that’s great news for flyers because competition usually drives down fares. With around 15 airlines buzzing around Iran at the start of this year, there was a lot of excess capacity on the market. In most markets, that’s great for a cheap fare at the weekend. But it also renders the local airline industry unstable, because capacity is out of whack with demand, and this financially undermines the airlines.

Iran’s Qeshm Air. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia Commons

And for all the talk about cheap fares, that’s not something Iran has a reputation for. Iranian airfares are not so bad if you have access to hard currencies. But airfares in Iran have risen sharply in recent years if you are paying in Iranian rials.

Then, of course, there’s the whole issue of the embargo. It’s hard to get new aircraft into Iran, and it’s hard to get spare parts of existing aircraft. That raises a host of real and perceived concerns, including safety issues. A few things are going on that make running an airline in Iran a pretty challenging experience.

There’s a significant downturn in airline activity in Iran in 2020

Now, that OAG data was based on flights running before the impact of the travel downturn. But there’s still a fair bit of activity on at least one of these two routes.

Taking a sample date of Friday, October 30, Google Flights shows 14 flights running between Tehran and Mashhad. Things are substantially quieter on the route between Tehran and Ahwaz that day. Only four flights are operating.

It also seems quite a few airlines have dropped off the routes. Only four airlines are flying both routes on October 30. They are Iran Aseman, Taban Airlines, Qeshm Air, and Iran Airtours.

An Iran Airtours MD-82. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia Commons

Demand for travel within Iran is estimated to have collapsed by about 70% this year. That’s not dissimilar to what you see happening elsewhere. In mid-September, the Iran Airports Company published data indicating just over eight million people jumped on a plane in Iran in the period March to August 2020. That’s a big drop in the usual numbers.

With China’s domestic airline market almost running at 2019 levels again, those two Iranian domestic routes are not likely to feature in the next OAG report. In Iran, as elsewhere, there’s likely to be fewer airlines competing for business down the track.