SEJONG, March 11 (Korea Bizwire) – A direct air route linking South Korea and Iran will open for the first time in four decades following the lifting of international sanctions against the Middle East country, the government said Friday.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said it will give a flight license to Korean Air Lines Co., the country’s largest air carrier, to ferry passengers and air freight four times a week between Incheon, the country’s main gateway on the outskirts of Seoul, and Tehran.
Korean Air, who won the license over rival Asiana Airlines Inc., is expected to start operation on the route within the year.
South Korea and Iran reached an aviation agreement in 1998 to allow South Korean airliners to run four flights of passenger and cargo planes.
But no South Korea-flagged passenger aircraft has landed on Iranian soil so far, while Iran Air had operated a Tehran-Incheon route via China’s Beijing until 2007. The airway was suspended at that time due to the international sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program.
Korean Air’s cargo planes had flown the Seoul-Tehran route in the 1970s on an irregular basis.
The South Korean government’s decision to open the direct flight route between Seoul and Tehran came as world powers like the United States and Europe have removed political and economic sanctions against Iran, which has completed the necessary steps to restrict its nuclear program.
Market watchers said the route will link South Korea and Iran with populations of 50 million and 80 million, respectively, with an estimated 40,000 passengers to travel by plane every year.
“Iran has abundant natural resources and consumers. It had been one of our biggest economic partners in the 1970s,” the transportation ministry said in a release. “The opening of the direct flight route will foster business exchanges between the two countries and strengthen bilateral cooperation.”