Oman Air stakes claim in difficult Iranian market

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Oman Air will begin operating a daily service between Muscat and Tehran on 1 September, entering a challenging market which has confounded several of its Gulf rivals.

The Iranian capital will be served by Oman Air's 71-seater Embraer 175 regional jets. Two of the aircraft entered its fleet last year, while another pair are due to be delivered in August and November of this year, according to Flightglobal's Ascend Online database.

Oman Air chief executive Wayne Pearce, who took over from Peter Hill last year, says he expects "strong demand from both business and leisure passengers" on the route.

Two competing Gulf carriers have tempered their Iranian aspirations in recent times. Gulf Air stopped flying to the country in March 2011 following concerns that the Islamic Republic was seeking to agitate civil unrest in Bahrain. Qatar Airways then quietly scaled back a "massive expansion drive across Iran" which had been due to begin in December 2011.

The Doha-based carrier also dropped its plans to take over domestic routes from Iran Air, whose fleet has been hit by US sanctions on aircraft orders and repairs. Qatar Airways retains a strong presence in the country, though, offering flights to Tehran, Shiraz and Mashhad.

Oman Air says it wants to develop itself as a premium-quality regional carrier, focusing on niche Middle Eastern routes and a select number of long-haul destinations.

In addition to its upcoming pair of E-175s, the Muscat-based carrier has orders for six Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners and six 737-800s. It currently operates a fleet of 26 aircraft, comprising 15 737s, two E-175s, seven Airbus A330s and two ATR 42s, according to Ascend Online.