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Tehran’s Airport Expansion Plans Facing Systematic Delays

Imam Khomeini International Airport. Tehran. Undated.

The inauguration of a new terminal at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport (IKIA) that was initially planned to become operational years ago, has been delayed again.

In the recent years, Iran’s largest and only profitable airport has been operating over its capacity of 6 million passengers per year. With the construction of a new terminal, called Salam, the government hoped to increase the capacity of the airport by ca. 5 million passengers.

However, from the beginning, the project has been plagued by systematic delays due to mismanagement. The construction was planned to start early 2010, but a change in plan to make a two-floor terminal instead of the initially planned single-floor, caused a 9-month delay.

The construction finally commenced in 2011, but it was put on hold for several times for further changes in plan and lack of funding. In an effort to attract foreign investment, the Iranian government signed a memorandum of understanding with the French construction company Bouygues in January 2016.

However a year later, Aeroports de Paris, Bouygues’ partner for the Tehran airport terminal development, announced that it would no longer take part in the project, and Bouygues itself decided to withdraw from the deal in May 2017, after it was not able to secure financial backing from international banks, which feared and still fear to be punished by the U.S. government over cooperating with Iran.

Other failures delayed the project furthermore. Among other things, parts of the construction worth of around half a million dollars was demolished last year based on “recommendations” by the Dutch consulting company NACO.

After several rescheduling, the government announced last year that Salam terminal will be launched in June 2018. Yet, when Abbas Akhondi, Iran’s Transportation Minister visited the project on June 2, he only spoke of “summer of this year” as the new inauguration date.

While passengers have been complaining about the lack of basic facilities such as standard restrooms at the IKIA, Akhondi talked about ambitious plans of his government to increase the capacity of the airport to 100 million passengers per year by building a new terminal called Iranshahr.

IKIA started its operations on May 8, 2004, but it was shut down by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on the same day. By parking armed vehicles on the runway and threatening incoming flights with anti-aircraft fire, aircrafts were prevented to land at IKIA.

The IRGC later claimed that it had acted because of security concerns since the control of the airport, “a vital center in the country” had been handed over to foreign operators; the Tepe-Afken-Vie (TAV), the Turkish-Austrian consortium.

Ahmad Khorram, Iran’s Minister of Transportation at the time denounced the claim later by revealing that his government had removed the Turkish company and its employees from the airport prior to the inauguration.

It was possible that IRGC’s economic as well as political interests were playing a major role in the incident. It is a well-known fact that the Guards control a major chunk of Iran’s economy. By controlling air- and seaports, the guards not only can import goods without paying custom fees and taxes to the government, but also, they can quietly conduct secret operations, such as sending weapons to their proxies in different parts of the world.