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Sun 9 May 2004 04:00 AM

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Iranian army shuts down new airport

Tehran’s new International Airport has been shut down by the Iranian army on its first day of operation.

Tehran’s new International Airport has been shut down by the Iranian army on its first day of operation. Security fears were cited as the reason for the move, but the closure is also being linked to a dispute with the foreign consortium that has built and was to operate the new Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKIA).

IKIA was built by the Turkish-Austrian consortium Tepe-Afken-Vie (TAV) and the company was due to operate the facility as well for 11 years under a build-operate-transfer (BOT) model. However, following the army intervention, Iran Air has now taken over operations of the airport.

"Unfortunately officials at the airport ignored the security measures... on not deploying foreign groups at this vital centre in the country," the joint-armed forces said in a statement released through the official IRNA news agency.

The new airport has proven controversial in Iran because of the foreign involvement in the project. Before it was opened, two local airlines said they would refuse to transfer their flights to IKIA from Mehrabad in protest at a government decision to hand over operation of the airport's only existing terminal to the TAV consortium.

"We are not flying from an airport run by foreigners," Ali Abedzadeh, director of state-owned Aseman Airline, was quoted as saying by Economic Hayat-e No daily on Wednesday.

Only one flight, which was from Dubai, was allowed to land at IKIA before it was shut down. Other services are now being diverted to the old Mehrabad Airport in central Tehran.

The head of Iran's Aviation Organisation told ISNA that he opposed the closure. "The security forces have no right to close the airport and it is illegal in terms of both domestic and international laws," commented Hassan Hajalifard.

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