Monday, 1 August 2016

Interview: Saeed Kalhori, Kish Air Deputy Managing Director

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Kish Island – pronounced "quiche" – has been a focal point for Iranian aviation since the 1970s, when Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, transformed the desolate Gulf island into a luxury casino and vacation resort.

Its small airport was specifically designed to handle the supersonic Concorde, which whisked foreign dignitaries in from Paris under a wet-lease agreement with Iran Air.

Much like the flag-carrier's own order for Concordes, however, the debauchery came to an end with the 1979 Islamic Revolution that deposed the Shah and introduced more conservative values across the country. Kish now adheres to the same religious codes that govern the rest of Iran – alcohol is forbidden; hijabs are mandatory for females.

The island forged a new path in the 1980s by becoming one of Iran's free-trade zones. Governing body the Kish Free Zone Organisation (KFZO) now woos overseas investors with the promise of visa-free travel; 15-year tax exemptions; and no restrictions on foreign ownership.

Its overarching plan is to transform Kish into "the next Dubai" – an oasis for business and high-end tourism in the Persian Gulf...