KLM waits in the wings as Air France prepares to take off to Tehran

The Dutch flag carrier is understood to have already held discussions with the Ministry of Roads and Urban Developments in Iran and is closely liaising with sister carrier Air France ahead of its own return to Tehran.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is exploring the resumption of flights between its Amsterdam Schiphol Airport hub and Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran as airlines continue to look to take advantage of a post-sanction rise in demand for travel into Iran.  The airline is understood to have already held discussions with the Ministry of Roads and Urban Developments in Iran and is closely liaising with sister carrier Air France ahead of its own return to Tehran.

The Netherlands flag carrier last served Tehran in April 2013 when it suspended a four times weekly link from Amsterdam operated using McDonnell Douglas MD-11 equipment. Earlier this year it revealed its readiness to resume the route after a three year hiatus when it uploaded to the GDS and displayed on its own website a four times weekly schedule starting May 2, 2016 using a Boeing 777-200ER.  However, this was quickly removed after the story was revealed by our schedules blog Airline Route.

This schedule showed flight ‘KL433’ departing Amsterdam at 17:25 on Monday, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and arriving in Tehran at 01:05 the following the morning.  The return flight ‘KL434’ was due to depart from Iran at 03:05 on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and arrive back into Europe at 06:20 the same morning.

The Ministry of Road and Urban Development has been quoted in the Iranian press as confirming the intent of KLM to follow Air France and British Airways back into the country, the airline continues to remain tight-lipped over its plans.

Air France will this weekend resume its own flights to Tehran from its Paris Charles De Gaulle hub with the introduction of a three times weekly offering from April 17, 2016. The route, which originally dates back to 1946, was suspended in October 2008 due to Iran struggling economy. The SkyTeam founding member initially scheduled a sharklet-equipped Airbus A320 to serve the route but has recently significantly boosted capacity.

Instead of deploying the single-aisle airliner, Air France will be using widebodied equipment.  It will initially use an A330-200 through to May 2, 2016 and then switch to the A340-300.  The latter will continue to serve the route for the remainder of the summer and through the winter 2016/2017 schedule until late March 2017.

The aircraft switch has also resulted in a slight schedule change with flight ‘AF738’ departing from Paris at 12:20 on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. The aircraft will night-stop and return as flight ‘AF755’ at 09:15 on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, arriving back in the French capital at 12:40 the same day.  The previous schedule had planned a 10:30 departure from Paris and 07:15 departure from Tehran.

Air France originally launched flights to Tehran almost 70 years ago on April 29, 1946. The route was served every two weeks with the aircraft making six stops en route in Marseille, Tunis, Benghazi, Cairo, Beirut and Baghdad.

The airline is illustrating its ambition to expand in a country with buoyant growth, as the European Union is Iran’s fourth most important economic partner. "With this new route launch, Air France is showing that it is ready to seize all possible profitable development and growth opportunities", said Frédéric Gagey, chairman and chief executive officer, Air France.

British Airways is also resuming flights to Tehran from July 14, 2016 with a six times weekly link from its Heathrow Airport hub in London after a 16-year absence of flying its own aircraft into the country.  Like Air France, it has a long history in serving the city having also first launched scheduled flights between London and the Iranian capital in 1946.

“Iran is a large and growing economy and Tehran is a brilliant business city so we are incredibly excited to be adding another gateway to the Middle East for our customers," said Neil Cottrell, head of network planning, British Airways.

"The recent lifting of sanctions opens up exciting new prospects for Iran as a tourist destination and with its rich heritage, unique architecture and world-class food it’s unsurprising Tehran is tipped to be a popular destination for 2016,” he added.

Other European airlines are also seeking to take advantage of Iran's potential. Alitalia boosted frequencies at the end of last month and now operates daily Rome-Tehran flights using an A320, while Austrian Airlines has boosted its Vienna – Tehran offering from six to ten weekly rotations.

Alongside the Austrian flag carrier, other members of the Lufthansa Group have been more cautious with their own expansion into Iran and deferred routes into Tehran.  Lufthansa’s proposed three times weekly A330-300 link from Munich will now launch from July 4, 2016 rather than planned April 14, 2016 start date. A planned twice weekly Eurowings link between Cologne-Bonn and Tehran has also been deferred by at least a year from summer 2016 operation to a likely March 2017 launch.