By Hamed Mohammadi
Mahan Air, a private Iranian airline, will soon offer direct commercial flights between Tehran and Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, according to the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) reported, which cited Reza Jaffarzadeh, the spokesman for the Iran Civil Aviation Organization.
A delegation of senior Iranian officials arrived in Caracas on April 8 to discuss the launch of direct flights between the two capitals. According to Mr. Jaffarzadeh, a team of aviation experts and executives from Mahan Air will travel to Caracas at a future date for further talks. A direct flight between the two capitals will take around 16 hours.
The timing of the venture is curious given that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro may not be in office for much longer. In addition, the low exchange-rate value of the rial against major foreign currencies makes it extremely costly for Iranian holidaymakers to buy expensive flights to the city of Caracas.
Meanwhile, most Venezuelans are wrestling with food shortages and struggling to make ends meet. The number of Iranians and Venezuelans who could afford an expensive long-haul flight is so small that it would make no business sense to have direct commercial flights.
Other potentially technical, operational and legal issues could make this project a major challenge.
The U.S. Treasury sanctioned Mahan Air in 2011 for allegedly transporting Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Qods Force (IRGC-QF) personnel and weapons to Syria. In February of this year, Germany banned Mahan Air’s flights to and from Munich and Dusseldorf.
Given these severe restrictions on the airline, many countries would not allow Mahan Air passenger planes to land at their airports to refuel or fix mechanical problems. The U.S. would penalize any airport that allows Mahan Air commercial flights to land on its runways. It would also punish companies that would sell fuel and engine or spare parts to the airline.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry has in the past issued travel advisories: warning the public against traveling to France following street unrest by members of the yellow-vest movement last November, and to Turkey after a series of bombings in Ankara in February 2016.
It is, therefore, odd that the ministry has issued no travel advisory regarding Venezuela despite the political turmoil and the continuing violence in that country.
Former presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez discussed economic cooperation including direct flights between the two countries in 2010 and 2012. Iran Air was the first airline to fly from Tehran to Caracas via Damascus on February 20, 2007. An economy class ticket for that flight cost $1,200. At today’s exchange rate, the same ticket would cost nearly $4,000. If Tehran-Caracas flights are economically profitable, then why did Venezuelan airline Conviasa cancel all of its flight to Tehran in 2009?
Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi