1 Mar 2024
Saturday 22 August 2015 - 13:58
Story Code : 177020

Even without sanctions, Iranian aviation faces turbulent future

TEHRAN Other than Irans energy, auto,financeand tourism sectors, the countrys aviation industry one of thehardest hitby Western sanctions is seen as a major beneficiary of the July 14 nuclear deal with six world powers.

Decades-long restrictions on Iranian imports of Western-made planes and spare parts have left the Islamic Republic with an aging fleet. With an average age of 23 years, Iranian passenger aircraft are nearly twice as old as the international average. This has had a grave impact on flight safety. According to theInternational Flight Safety Foundation, 1,672 people have lost their lives in airplane-related disasters in Iran since the countrys 1979 revolution. The most recent crash, in August 2014, claimed 39 lives.

Given the current state of Iranian aviation, it is hard to imagine that four decades ago, Iran Air the flag carrier was ranked as theworlds second safestfor having been accident-free for at least 10 consecutive years. Strikingly, Iran Air was also the regions leading airline, and by the late 1970s, the fastest-growing carrier in the world.

To keep its fleet operational, Iran launched the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company (HESA) in 1997. However, major maintenance problems still exist. Of the 250 planes reportedly in the Iranianfleet, a whopping 110 are grounded due to anurgent need of repairand spare parts.

Apart from maintaining old aircraft, Iran has tried to build planes on its own without much luck. To meet demand for passenger planes, HESA obtained the production license for the twin-engine turbojet Antonov An-140 from Ukraine in 2000. Three years later, it built its first local Iran-140 passenger plane. However, mass production of the aircraft never materialized. Even worse, shortly after a fatal Iran-140 crash in August 2014, Iranian PresidentHassan Rouhaniordered the grounding of the entire Iran-140 fleet.

With sanctions relief in sight, officials, includingMohammad Khodakarami, caretaker director of Irans Civil Aviation Organization (CAO), now say a new chapter in the countrys aviation industry is about to begin.

Aviation experts and Iranian officials have estimated that the country needs as many as400 new aircraftin the next decade to renovate its antiquated fleet. Some officials have been more specific about the number and type of planes, and said that Iran plans to buy80 to 90 Airbus and Boeing planesa year. These kinds of purchases areestimatedto cost $20 billion, according to Abbas Akhoundi, Irans minister of Roads and Urban Development.

However, aviation experts have doubts about whether Iranian airlines have the financial muscle to order such a large number of aircraft at once. Seyed Ali Tonekaboni, procurement manager at Iran Air, told Al-Monitor that one way to address this issue is for the government to allocate a special budget. While acquiring modern Western aircraft may be the top priority of Iranian aviation authorities, turning to second-hand planes or leasing them may be inevitable in the short term,Tonekaboni added, pointing to multiyear waiting lists for delivery.

The Iranian aviation sector faces other challengestoo. While the authorities have long attributed the industrys decline to sanctions, some experts also lay blame elsewhere. Pointing a finger at CAOmismanagementover the past two decades, Amir Tajik, head of Iran Airs Internal Procurement Department, told Al-Monitor,The organization needs strategic and long-term planning for the industry.

Its very good that sanctions will be lifted, but that alone cant help us to regain our position in the regions aviation industry, Tajik added.

Although it is not clear how many planes Iranian airlines will eventually order, Tonekaboni saidthat other than obtaining new planes, local carriers need to have a commercial mindset to develop a profitable passenger business and put an end to the strategy of selling seats at any costs.

Tonekaboni, who is also a university professor, stressed that giving high priority to training, transfer of knowledge and expertise from experienced to new employees, along with applying proven business models, could help Iranian aviation regain its past glory.

Other than renewing the fleet, Iran is also looking to expand itsairport infrastructure and facilitiesto attract moreinternational corridorand transit flights by foreign airlines. Situated right on theSilk Road, Irans geography gives it an ideal position for flights from Western Europe, North Africa and North America to the Asia-Pacific region.

With regional rivals such as Emirates and Qatar Airways based just across the Persian Gulf, it remains to be seen if Irans aviation industry in general, and Iran Air in particular, can make up for lost time.

This article was written by Maysam Bizr for Al-Monitor on AUG. 19, 2015.
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