LONDON, April 28 (IranMania) - Iran is set to finally reopen its biggest airport on Saturday, putting behind months of bickering which has kept it shut down since it was inaugurated by President Mohammad Khatami almost a year ago, Iran Daily reported.
According to civil aviation authorities on Wednesday, Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKIA) will initially handle all flights on the route between Iran and the United Arab Emirates.
"All flights of domestic and foreign companies from Tehran to the United Arab Emirates and vice versa will be carried out from the Imam Khomeini International Airport, effective April 30," the statement said.
"According to this statement, the landing and take-off of these flights from Mehrabad Airport will not be authorized," it added.
Meanwhile, the spokesman for the Civil Aviation Organization, Reza Jaafarzadeh, said all flights from and to Iran to the Persian Gulf littoral states, barring Saudi Arabia, will take place from the IKIA, starting May 9.
"Effective May 9, all flights of domestic and foreign companies from Iran to the Persian Gulf littoral states, including UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait and vice versa, but not Saudi Arabia, will take place from Imam Khomeini International Airport," he said.
Iran's armed forces closed down Imam Khomeini International Airport on May 8, 2004, citing security concerns, just after it was officially inaugurated with the landing of a foreign aircraft.
They had stressed that the airport would remain closed as long as 'security provisions' were not met.
Officials have said that the IKIA will eventually be able to handle 40 million passengers a year, making Tehran a regional transport hub.
The dispute beat all the way up to the Iranian parliament, leading to the impeachment in October of transport minister Ahmad Khorram, whose ministry had awarded the IKIA contract to the Turks.
The parliament also passed an urgent bill, giving itself the prerogatives to scrap the two contracts if they are deemed a threat to national security.
The decision prompted the Government to postpone President Khatami's planned visit to Turkey.
Iran had initially awarded the Turkish-Austrian consortium Tepe-Akfen-Vie (TAV) to build and operate the IKIA.
Transport Minister Mohammad Rahmati was quoted in February as saying that Iranian officials had accepted to cede the IKIA to a consortium of six domestic entities if parliament removed TAV from the picture.
"In the event of the Majlis' opposition to the participation of the Turkish company TAV in the IKIA deal, the situation will change across-the-board," the daily Kayhan quoted him as saying.
Rahmati said the government as well as the transport ministry were awaiting parliament's decision on whether to engage TAV in the deal.
Another Turkish deal to build the first Iranian private mobile network has faced a similar snag.
In February, parliament decided to trim down Turkish
telecommunication major Turkcell's stake in the project to a non-controlling 49 percent share, citing security concerns.
"The division of shares among Irancell shareholders must be carried out in a way that the Iranian companies' stake does not go below 51 percent," the parliament declared in approving the bill.
Parliament also decreased Turkcell's subscription price to about dlrs 125 per line from the company's suggested price of dlrs 178.
The deal is facing further blocks as the Guardian Council, which screens all parliamentary laws, was recently reported to have demanded more changes to the contract to remove security concerns.
The original deal was worth 385.7 million dollars, giving Turkey's leading GSM operator, Turkcell, a 70-percent stake in the project, called Irancell to operate 16 million lines over a period of 15 years.
Telecommunications Minister Ahmad Motamedi has stated that the current Iranian mobile phone network, providing connection to 3.5 million subscribers in a country of 70 million, lags 10 years behind the rest of the world in updating its technology.
"Bridging this gap in the short-term through traditional methods is certainly impossible," he says.
According to the communications minister, the Irancell deal, better known as the Second Operator in Iran, is 'one of the solutions to overcome this problem'.
"A simple estimate indicates that if we rely on the capability of the First Operator, given the 25-fold increase in the country's capacity, it will take between eight and ten years to meet the existing demands (for mobile phones)," Motamedi says.