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The evolution of IKA

Posted 23 October 2017 · Add Comment

As Tehran's Imam Khomeini Airport (IKA) continues to grow as the main hub for the Iranian capital, Mohammad Razazzan looks at the development of the project.

Imam Khomeini International airport is the largest in Iran – built over an area of 13,500 hectares and located 35km southwest of Tehran.
It currently has a capacity of 6.5 million passengers per year plus 120,000 tonnes of cargo. It is connected to the Tehran-Qom motorway via an airport access road.
The development of the airport began during the seventies, when the Imperial Government of Iran, in agreement with its western partners, decided the build a new international facility to make the city the main hub connecting Asia to western Europe and North America.
The government allocated a $1 billion budget for the construction of the airport, which had an initial name of Ariamehr.
TAMS-AFFA, a joint venture between US design consortium TAMS and Aziz FarmanFarmaian and Associates, was formed to design and supervise the construction of the airport. The original two-runway design was based on Dallas Love Field.
The process was stopped during the Iranian revolution and later cancelled. However, the Government of Iran subsequently decided to design and build the airport “using local know-how”.
To do so, the authorities selected French firm ADP “to head the local designers and engineering firms”. Kayson, a local general contractor, performed the process under a turnkey design-and-build infrastructure delivery model.
However, after two years, the contract “was abandoned and was awarded to a Bonyad (an Iranian charitable trust), with public cartel the Mostazafan & Janbazan (M&J Foundation) taking over.
Once the construction of the terminal was achieved, the Iranian Civil Aviation Organization decided to transfer the management of the operation, as well as the construction of the second terminal, to the Tepe-Akfen-Vie (TAV) consortium. This consisted of two Turkish companies (Tepe and Akfen) and an Austrian firm (Vie).
However, due to technical issues, the opening day was postponed to May 8 2004. Then, just prior to the opening, two local airlines refused to switch to the new airport.
At that time, Ali Abedzadeh, director of semi-privately owned Iran Aseman Airlines (now director of Iran Civil Aviation – CAO), said: “We are not flying from an airport run by foreigners.”
As a result, TAV officials were ordered to withdraw their personnel and equipment from the airport on May 7 2004 and Iran Air assumed the operation of the facility.
Although the airport was now managed by Iran Air, a few hours after its opening on May 8, the Revolutionary Guards of the Iranian Armed Forces closed it, citing security fears over the use of foreigners in the running of the facility.
Only one Emirates flight from Dubai was allowed to land. The second flight from Dubai, which was an Iran Air flight, was forced to land in Isfahan International Airport.
It took few days for the authorities to clarify this confused situation. However, finally on May 13, the airport was reopened. The deputy head of Iran’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Brigadier General Alireza Afshar, stated: “Because foreign companies will no longer be in charge of the airport’s operation, security obstacles are removed.”
In April 2005, the $350 million Imam Khomeini International Airport was reopened under the management of a consortium of four local airlines – Mahan Air, Aseman, Caspian Airlines and Kish Air – although no formal contract appeared to have been awarded.
Later, management of the airport was transferred to the Iran Airports Company, which, on behalf of Iranian Ministry of Roads and Transportation, is in charge of operating all civil and governmental Iranian airports, except some belonging to special organisations like the Oil Ministry or armed forces
In 2005, Britain and Canada issued warnings to travellers to avoid using the Imam Khomeini International Airport due to concerns the runway may be unsafe. Iranian transport officials rejected the travel advisories and said the airport and runway had been inspected and approved by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
On October 26 2007, it was announced that, as of midnight two days later, all international flights, except those bound to and from Damascus, Jeddah and Medina, were transferred to IKA, and it became Tehran’s primary international airport.
In 2016, as a result of worsening ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, all Hajj flights from Iran were terminated, rendering IKA the only international gateway to Tehran.
Three years earlier, the airport had handled 4,756 million passengers, a 20% increase over 2012. This made it the 11th busiest airport by international passenger traffic in the Middle East. The airport also handled 98,904 tonnes of cargo in 2013.
The total number of commercial aircraft movements was 36,827 in 2013. In 2015 IKA handled 6.525 million passengers.
Subsequent to the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions in mid-January 2016, Air France became the first European carrier to resume flights to the Iranian capital, after having suspended them in 2008.
On April 17 2016, Air Asia became the first Southeast Asian airline to resume Tehran services by offering direct flights from the Malaysian and Thai capitals. It had originally suspended them in 2012.
On June 21 2016, Central Asian airlines, including Uzbekistan Airways and Air Astana, also started flights to IKA.
Various other airlines, including British Airways, KLM, China Southern Airlines, Lufthansa and Thai Airways, have either resumed or ramped up frequency of their flights to Tehran.
IKA’s first active (and as of July 2016, its only operational) terminal is expected to handle more than eight million passengers this year.
A second terminal, called the Salam Terminal, is currently under construction, with a capacity of five million passengers per year. It was meant to be opened in June 2016, but financing issues led to this being delayed until May 2017. While originally intended as a dedicated pilgrimage terminal, according to Iran’s Minister of Roads and Transportation, Abbas Akhoundi, it will be open to all varieties of flights.
The third terminal – the Iranshahr Terminal – is set to open in two-to-three years. It is currently in its planning phase, with the development contract awarded to the Dutch engineering firm Netherlands Airport Consultants (NACO), a subsidiary of Royal Haskoning DHV.
It will have an expected capacity of 20 million passengers per year, bringing the airport’s total passenger capacity to 30 million. Once the new terminal is opened, the current Terminal 1 will be used for domestic flights only.
There are currently two runways at IKA, of which only one is operational. This has been equipped with a category II instrument landing system (ILS) since August 2009. A second ILS system was purchased seven years ago to serve the other runway but the selling firm refused to set it up due to sanctions against Iran. The ILS was installed by Iranian technicians but malfunctioned and was indefinitely switched off.
A third runway, positioned to the south of the existing runways and passenger terminal, is in the final stages of construction.
In October 2015, French corporation, AccorHotels, opened its Novotel and Ibis-branded hotels on the airport premises, marking the entry of the first international hotel chain into the Iranian market since the 1979 revolution. The two hotels are connected to the main passenger terminal by a skybridge passing through the currently unfinished airport metro station.

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