The Imam Khomeini International Airport, built to serve the capital Tehran, has been a political hot potato for President Muhammad Khatami's reformist government, which has been forced to delay its re-opening several times.

 

Revolutionary Guards took over the airport, located 45km south of Tehran, after just one flight had arrived on the opening day last May, citing security concerns.

 

Hardline parliamentarians took up the cause soon afterwards, criticising the government's decision to entrust the operation of the airport to a Turkish engineering consortium TAV.

 

Local companies

 

The airport will now be operated be a group of local airline companies led by flagship carrier Iran Air, Reza Jafarzadeh, spokesman for Iran's Civil Aviation Organisation, told Reuters.

 

As with last year's aborted opening, flights to and from the new airport will commence on Saturday with routes to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

 

"Starting May 9, all flights from Tehran to UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait and vice versa will be from Imam Khomeini International Airport," the Civil Aviation Organisation said in a statement.

 

International carriers serving Iran have expressed concerns about the lack of public transport links to the new airport, which, due to Tehran's heavy traffic congestion, lies more than 90 minutes travel time away from parts of the capital.

 

The airport, plans for which were drawn more than 30 years ago, is designed to replace Mehrabad International Airport, closer to Tehran's city centre which handles about 9 million domestic and international passengers a year.

 

"It is not yet definite when all flights will be moved to the new airport," Jafarzadeh said.