For years spotters and classic airliner enthusiasts congregated in Tehran to fly on the last commercial passenger examples of the Boeing 707 still in operation.
The airline Saha Air offered the rare chance to take short trips around the country on the iconic aircraft. However, in 2013 it retired the type from active service in favour of ‘newer’ types such as the Airbus A300.
Since then spotting reports from Iran have quietened. No longer were so many people making the pilgrimage every year.
So what is there to draw you to Tehran today?There are two airports in Tehran – Mehrabad is the domestic airport, which is the more interesting one. Imam Khomeini is the international airport, which handles most flights from other countries.
Despite the outside perception, Iran is still a friendly place and welcoming to visitors and tourists. However, like much of the Middle East the hobby of spotting, photographing and logging aircraft remains misunderstood and suspicious to authorities. So discretion is needed whenever spending time near airports in Iran.
The main domestic airlines in Iran at present include Ata Airline, Atrak Air, Caspian Airlines, Iran Air, Iran Air Tours, Iran Aseman Airlines, Iranian Naft Airlines, Kish Air, Mahan Air, Meraj Airlines, Qeshm Airlines, Taban Air and Zagros Airlines.
All of these carriers serve Mehrabad Airport on the incredibly busy trunk routes to the main cities in the country.
The largest airline by aircraft fleet and passengers flown is Mahan Air, which recently took delivery of nine second-hand Airbus aircraft to renew its fleet. These included the A340-300 and -600 models. I believe these were formerly flown by Virgin Atlantic.
Iran Air is the national carrier, which splits its flying between both airports. It has ‘modernised’ its fleet with the addition of second-hand Airbus A320s in 2009, and also flies many A300s, A310s and Fokker 100s.
With the Boeing 707 gone, which carriers are operating other rare aircraft? Well, unfortunately there aren’t many of note.
The most numerous aircraft types are the Fokker 100, Airbus A300-600, Airbus A320, Airbus A340-300 and ATR 72. However, rarer types in abundance include the McDonnell Douglas MD-82/83 and Airbus A310-300, which are of interest.
The most noteworthy types still in passenger operation here are the Boeing 727, which features in the fleet of Iran Aseman Airlines, the Boeing 747-200 flown by Iran Air, and the Boeing 747-300 which is flown by Mahan Air.
But if you are a spotter looking for rarer aircraft, the military and government in Iran still operate a few classic types from Mehrabad Airport, including the Boeing 707, 747-100 and 747-200. These can usually be seen on the southern and extreme western sides of the airport.
Plus, the Tehran Aerospace Exhibition Centre has an aviation museum a short distance from the airport with preserved 727, 737s, Fokker F-28, FH-227, Douglas C-47, Lockheed TriStar. Sometimes stored airliners can be seen on the taxiways linking the airport to the museum.
Resurgence of the MD-80
As Western airlines retire the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 series aircraft, airlines in Iran have snapped up a number of examples – no fewer than six of the domestic airlines currently fly variants of the aircraft. I suspect that this will become one of the last strongholds for the type as it fades from existence, so could become a future place for fans of the type (and the DC-9 for that matter) to come and experience it before it’s too late.
What happened to Saha Air’s 707s?
Although you can’t fly them any more, Saha Air’s Boeing 707s are still in existence at Mehrabad Airport.
One, EP-SHE, crash landed at the airport in 2005. The remains of the aircraft still sits at the western end of the airport.
Another, EP-SHV is now preserved and used as a cabin trainer at the airline’s headquarters.
The rest are currently stored at the airport or in use for military and government flying.
Spotting at Tehran
Both airports have some opportunities for spotting, but this should be done very discretely without showing cameras, binoculars or poles openly.
Fath Square and the Sa’idi Expressway pass the end of runways 29L/R and is good for photographing aircraft approaching the runways.
Also, if you fly out of the airport you can expect views from the terminal building departure areas.
A good tip is to visit the Mehrabad Airport website (http://mehrabad.airport.ir/) as it shows a timetable of flights and aircraft types for each. This helps in gaining an understanding of the movements of different airlines.