Scheduled flights between Tehran and Belgrade are resuming this summer. This year’s first flight between the Serbian and Iranian capitals has already taken place in July. The service is being operated by the privately-owned Iranian airline Mahan Air, infamously known as one of the biggest polluters in the industry.
Mahan Air previously suspended this route in August 2018, despite it being highly popular and operated by Mahan’s A340. As was reported by Ex-Yu Aviation News at the time, the suspension of the Tehran-Belgrade service appears to have come due to pressure from the USA. It will be interesting to see whether this route will survive for longer this time around.
There is certainly a market between Serbia and Iran
Flights between Belgrade and Tehran were first scheduled for January 2018, as reported by Aviation Iran at the time. The carrier was Iran Air, though it did not actually commence the service until two months later. The route launch in 2018 followed the lifting of visa requirements for Iranian nationals visiting Serbia in 2017. Iran Daily reported that this was a political decision, explicitly aimed at increasing tourism revenue in the two countries.
The Serbian and Iranian governments were, unsurprisingly, successful in this aim, with Tehran Times reporting an increase in tourist arrivals the following year. By March, the flights between Tehran and Belgrade were sold out for the entire summer.
The success of this previously non-existent route was significant. After Iran Air, two more Iranian carriers launched services to Belgrade the same summer season. As Ex-Yu Aviation reported in March 2018, Qeshm Air introduced a two-weekly service in March and Mahan Air a two-weekly service too, in April.
It is thus evident that the liberalized visa regime between Serbia and Iran contributed to the two countries having such strong air connectivity with such strong passenger traffic.
Hostility towards Mahan Air
We reported in August 2018 that numerous carriers were discontinuing their services to Iran. As tensions between the US and Iran grew over the summer, more and more airlines were distancing themselves from Iran. However, most cited reasons like commercial viability or continued performance reviews for suspensions.
Still, The Jerusalem Post reported in June that the American Ambassador to Germany actually requested that Mahan Air be blocked from Germany. Similarly, when Ex-Yu Aviation News covered the story of Mahan Air suspending its flights to Belgrade in 2018 it cited “increased US pressure” for this decision.
Serbia reimposes visas, Iranian carriers pull out
Three carriers launched flights to Belgrade from Iran in 2018. All three claimed to have remarkable success on these flights. And yet, not one of the three kept the route beyond the summer of 2018.
The Serbian government reintroduced visas for Iranians in October 2018. Ex-Yu Aviation News cites abuse of the visa free regime by asylum seekers as the reason for this. Serbia was the only country in Europe where Iranians could travel to without a visa. Moreover, the country is located close to the European Union, where asylum seekers are heading.
It will be interesting to see whether the new service by Mahan Air is here to stay. With tensions escalating in Iran, and with Iranians needing a visa to enter Serbia again, will the route survive?