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IranAir expects word from Boeing on jets deal: Official

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
IranAir signed a deal to buy 80 passenger planes from US aircraft maker Boeing in December 2016.

Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization has written to Boeing to inquire about the fate of a $16.5 billion deal for 80 jets with the US aircraft maker, which was shelved in 2018 after the former Trump administration revoked the export license, CAO Chief Executive Touraj Dehqani Zanganeh says.

President Donald Trump’s departure has kindled new hopes for a possible revival of the order which is part of Iran’s $36 billion deal signed in 2016 to buy airliners from Boeing, Airbus and ATR during a brief trade thaw.

“Iran's contract with Airbus and ATR has been suspended. Regarding the contract we have with Boeing, a letter has recently been written to clarify its fate,” Dehqani Zanganeh told Tasnim news agency.

National flag carrier IranAir had ordered 100 passenger aircraft from Airbus, 80 from Boeing and 20 from ATR, but the deals depended on US license because of the heavy use of American parts in the planes.

Iran had imported three aircraft from Airbus and 13 from ATR before the US Treasury Department revoked export licenses.

With Trump gone, it is not clear whether the duopolists and the Franco-Italian turboprop maker will be able to consummate the deals.

Dehqani Zanganeh said, “There is definitely a possibility that ATR and Airbus contracts will be reactivated. If an opening occurs, they will have to return to the contracts.”

Boeing played down the historic deal’s prospects after Trump took office. The planemaker even quietly lined up other customers for some of the jetliners once intended for IranAir.

An Iranian lawmaker said at the time that Tehran would sue Boeing at international tribunals for failing to fulfill its deal with Iran.

The new administration of President Joe Biden has been blowing hot and cold on easing US-Iran tensions which came to a head under Trump as he withdrew Washington from an international nuclear deal with Tehran and imposed the most draconian sanctions ever on the Islamic Republic.

While Biden has said he is ready to return to “the path of diplomacy” with Iran, his Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that the US is a “long way” from lifting sanctions on the Islamic Republic – a failure which dims any prospect of an opening.

Iran is adamant that any breakthrough has to come with the lifting of the illegitimate sanctions which have been hampering the country’s economic plans.

Major planemakers are subject to US export restrictions to Iran because more than 10 percent of the parts on their jets originate with US companies.

The Obama administration licensed the sales by both Airbus and Boeing to IranAir in late 2016. Biden who was vice president under Barack Obama has to do the same for the contracts to be reactivated.

Iran's aviation fleet

In the civil aviation sector, Iran has been trying to upgrade its vintage airliners. The country currently has 162 aircraft in its civil aviation fleet, according to Dehqani Zanganeh.  

Iranian airlines have had to grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the US sanctions at the same time.

The virus has led to a 50 percent drop in air travel, the official said, adding the government has provided 24,000 billion rials ($57 million) of low-interest loans to Iranian carriers and allowed them to raise ticket costs.    

Forty-two years of sanctions mean Iran has had a tough time to keep its civil aviation fleet up and running.

“One of the sectors tyrannically boycotted from the very first days of the victory of the Islamic Revolution was the Iranian aviation industry,” Dehqani Zanganeh said.

New Western-made aircraft in Iran

The sanctions, however, have also had a silver lining.

Iran’s aviation industry depended on foreign consultants, mainly Americans, before the 1979 Islamic Republic to keep its fleet airworthy, “but all the work in the industry today is done by young Iranians”, the official said.

“Before the revolution, Iranian pilots had to go abroad for training, but today they are trained inside Iran, become pilots and then work for foreign companies, which means everything is now the other way around.”

The Islamic Republic even continues to import used aircraft. According Dehqani Zanganeh, eight Western-made passenger planes have recently arrived in the country, and are about to be put into operation soon.

Another 16 planes will be delivered by the end of the Persian year on March 21.

“Their arrival date is not definite, but we expect them to arrive in due time,” he said.      

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