WSJ — British Airways plans to resume flights to Tehran Thursday evening, the latest restored link between the West and Iran since the lifting of nuclear sanctions in January.
A Boeing 777 wide-body jetliner is scheduled to take off from London around 9 p.m., bound for Tehran, the first flight into Iran by the airline since 2012. It suspended service then amid tightening Western sanctions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which curtailed demand for travel to the country.
British Airways plans to operate the service six times a week. The airline said the new service had received “a huge amount of interest.”
The lifting of sanctions has “allowed Iran to reopen for business and paved the way for commerce to re-connect with Iran’s economy, which is the second largest in Middle East and North Africa, with a diverse range of businesses and industries,” said Sean Doyle, British Airways’s network chief. The carrier also expects Iran to be a major draw for tourists.
The U.K. carrier had announced it would resume flights in February, part of the gradual warming of relations between London and Tehran. The decision to restore the link came only weeks after sanctions on the Islamic Republic were lifted in January after Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program.
Many European carriers closed routes to Iran for the same reason as British Airways though Deutsche Lufthansa AG kept flying to Tehran.
Air France resumed flights to Iran in April, having last flown there in 2008. The French carrier was the first major European airline to restore service after sanctions were lifted. Sister airline, Dutch carrier KLM, last month said it would resume Tehran service on Oct. 30, with four flights a week, after suspending service in 2013.
Plane makers Boeing Co. and Airbus Group SE have signed multibillion-dollar agreements to sell new jetliners to flag carrier Iran Air. The deals await licensing and finance agreements before they are completed.
Iran Air operates a fleet of aging aircraft, one consequence of the years of sanctions.
British Airways, a unit of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA, initially planned to begin flying to Tehran in July, but delayed the opening of the route to assure that infrastructure was ready to handle the service.
U.S. carriers—which this week resumed service to Cuba after the easing of U.S. sanctions earlier this year—are yet to offer direct flights to Iran.
The resumption of direct British Airways flights follows the reopening of the U.K.’s embassy in Tehran in August last year nearly four years after it was ransacked by a mob. Iran also reopened its embassy in London at the same time.
Britain and Iran, which have a long history of turbulent bilateral relations, downscaled diplomatic ties in late 2011 after Iranian students stormed the British embassy compound in Tehran, prompting Britain to expel Iran’s diplomats and close its diplomatic seat in Iran. Ties weren’t formally severed but contacts were reduced to their lowest possible level.
The election in 2013 of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, opened the way for progress on international talks about Iran’s disputed nuclear program and an improvement in the country’s relations with the West, including Britain. Last year, Iran reached a landmark nuclear deal with the U.S., the U.K. and four other world powers aimed at preventing Iran from producing nuclear weapons in exchange for relief of economic sanctions.
Western businesses have been eager to tap Iran’s big domestic market which largely has been off-limits for years. France’s Orange SA, for instance, is in talks to take a stake in Iran’s largest mobile-phone operator.
–Nicholas Winning contributed to this article.