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Iran inks deal to buy 80 Boeing planes Tehran seeks to revamp ageing fleet

TEHRAN: Farhad Parvaresh (left), Chairman and Managing Director of Iran Air, and Fletcher Barkdull, Boeing regional director, sign an agreement in the presence of Abbas Ahmad Akhoundi (center), Minister of Roads and Urban Development, in the capital Tehran yesterday. —AFP

TEHRAN: Iran Air finalized a contract to buy 80 planes from Boeing, the US aerospace firm confirmed yesterday, as it seeks to renew its ageing fleet despite sanctions.

Boeing said the contract-Iran’s first deal with a US aviation firm since the 1979 Islamic revolution-was worth $16.6 billion (15.7 billion euros). “Fifty of the planes are 737 and the other 30 are the long haul 777 that will be delivered to Iran Air in a period of 10 years,” said Farhad Parvaresh, chief executive of the national carrier, who signed the contract with Boeing officials in Tehran. With the incoming administration of US president-elect Donald Trump expected to take a tough line on Iran and American lawmakers recently voting for renewed sanctions, Boeing emphasized the employment opportunities of the deal.

“Today’s agreement will support tens of thousands of US jobs directly associated with production and delivery of the 777-300ERs and nearly 100,000 US jobs in the US aerospace value stream for the full course of deliveries,” the company said in a statement. Many US lawmakers have opposed the deal, accusing Iran Air of helping to transport troops and weapons to conflict zones around the region.

The lack of new planes and parts has taken a severe toll on Iran’s carriers over the years, earning it one of the worst safety records in the world with close to 1,700 people dying in a string of civilian and military air disasters since 1979, according to the Flight Safety Foundation.

“With the signing of this contract, the first important step has been taken for the modernization of the country’s aviation fleet,” Transport Minister Abbas Akhoundi was quoted as saying. The first Boeings are due to arrive in 2018 and Iran Air is also due to finalize the purchase of 100 planes from European firm Airbus.

“Our goal is to increase our ability to compete in the aviation industry to be able to get back our share in the transport industry in the region and the world,” said Akhoundi, referring to the fact that Iran was a regional hub for air transport before the revolution.

Sanctions pressure
Following initial agreements earlier in the year, the Boeing and Airbus deals were given final approval by the US government in September. Washington lifted some of its sanctions on Iran under a nuclear deal that came into force in January, but many restrictions have remained in place that mean companies trading with Tehran must receive explicit approval from the US Treasury.

That includes European firms like Airbus who manufacture some of their parts in the United States.

Pressure has been mounting on those in Iran and the United States who want to see increased trade between the two countries in order to cement the nuclear deal. Iranian leaders have reacted angrily to news that Washington will renew its existing sanctions in the coming days, saying it is a breach of the deal, while Trump has vowed to rip up the accord entirely. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has faced a barrage of criticism at home after the deal failed to attract the level of foreign investment he promised-mostly because global banks remain wary of doing business with the country. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has questioned the focus on purchasing billion-dollar fleets of aircraft.

“Suppose we modernize our air fleet. Okay, it’s a very important and necessary move. But is it the priority?” Khamenei said in June. – AFP

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