National carrier Iran Air is set to boost its operations with the estimated $500 million purchase of new Airbus passenger jets by 2004. The move comes in view of increasing pressure on the government to modernise Iran Air's commercial fleet after two leased Russian planes have crashed in the past 12 months.
'We are negotiating the purchase of 10 Airbus jets but still need to arrange the financing,' Iran Air chairman and managing director Davood Keshavarzian told MEED in late May. 'This is a complex procedure in the aircraft business but we hope to finalise the deal next year.'
Iran Air has attempted to upgrade its fleet with Airbus aircraft on several occasions in the past, but has been prevented from doing so because of unilateral sanctions imposed on Iran by the US. The embargo prevents the sale of aircraft or parts to the Islamic republic if more than 10 per cent originates from the US.
With US parts barred from sale to Iran, the UK's Rolls-Royceis expected to receive the engine order for the planes.
As part of Iran Air's strategy of increasing its international presence, the airline plans to add new destinations to its route map and to increase the frequency of most international flights.
'There are still some political problems but we hope to resolve these and add new destinations such as Canada and Iraq soon,' says Keshavarzian. 'We also predict more demand on routes to the Far East and plan to increase frequency to these destinations.'
About 1.6 million of Iran Air's 8 million passengers travelled on international flights in 2001, accounting for more than 40 per cent of the carrier's total income. Keshavarzian says that despite a slump in passenger numbers following 11 September, the airline's international business is now back on track.
Iran Air operates seven Airbus 310s and six Airbus 300s. The last additions to the fleet were made in 1994. The bulk of Iran Air's fleet consists of Boeing jets, most of which were bought before the 1979 Islamic revolution.