Iran’s largest privately-owned airline Mahan Air will start two new international routes and six domestic routes in 2010, as it aims to carry eight million passengers in the next five years.

The carrier plans to start new routes to Milan and Shanghai in 2010 and is also looking at potential new destinations in eastern Europe such as Prague, according to Hossein Hosseini, director of marketing and route development at the airline.

Mahan Air is also adding six routes on its domestic network this year, including flights to Sirjan, Zabol and Khoromabad.

The airline carried about three million passengers in 2009 and has plans to increase this to 3.4 million in 2010 and up to about 8 million by 2015.

Mahan Air plans to increase its fleet, currently at 26 aircraft, to about 50 mainly Airbus aircraft in the next five years to accommodate its expansion plans.

The airline has been adding five aircraft a year for the past couple of years and is aiming to increase the rate at which it acquires new aircraft over the next five years.

The main problem facing Iran’s airlines currently is that it cannot buy new aircraft due to the embargoes on the Islamic republic and so they are forced to buy aircraft that the other regional airlines are selling or Russian aircraft that are unsafe, Hosseini tells MEED.

In 2008, Mahan Air was removed from the European Commission’s list of carriers banned from EU airspace. The only Middle East airline on the blacklist, the company was readmitted after substantial improvements in safety standards (MEED 24:7:08).

As the airline expands, it is aiming to act as a hub and catch most of the traffic travelling between Europe and Asia.

It achieved profits of just under $1m in 2009.

Mahan Air is owned by a charity organisation called Mol-Al-Movahedin based in Kerman, which is in the centre of Iran, about 1,076-kilometres south of Tehran.