TEHRAN, Iran – Iran is looking to buy 400 passenger planes in the next 10 years to upgrade its aging fleet if Western sanctions imposed over its controversial nuclear program are lifted, the country’s top aviation official said Wednesday.
The remark by Ali Reza Jahangirian of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization reflects Tehran’s interest in attracting foreign investment and upgrading its creaking aviation industry.
It comes amid a new climate in the country following the election last June of new President Hassan Rouhani who has focused his efforts on reviving Iran’s faltering economy.
“Iranian airlines will be ready to buy 40 jets a year,” Jahangirian said, without disclosing specifics of what could be a multi-billion dollar project.
Jahangirian also said Iran has received “very positive signals” from Western companies, including Boeing Co. and General Electric Co. about getting new spare parts. Both Boeing and GE have said the U.S. Treasury Department has given them licenses to export to Iran.
The licenses for spare parts were made possible under a temporary nuclear deal struck last November between Iran and six world powers. Under it, Tehran is to halt some aspects of its nuclear program in return for the lifting of some sanctions — including restrictions on sale of commercial plane parts and services to Iran.
Such a sale to Iran would be the first publicly known dealing between U.S. airspace companies and Tehran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the pro-U.S. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and brought clerics to power.
Iran and the six-nation group — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany — are currently negotiating a comprehensive, permanent deal that could lift all sanctions on Iran while removing any possibility for Tehran to develop a nuclear weapon.
Jahangirian said that out of Iran’s 250 commercial planes, about 150 are flying while the rest are grounded due to lack of spare parts.
Jahangirian also said that Iran has taken some “technical” steps in preparing for a resumption of direct flights with the United States but that more needs to be done before that becomes a reality.
Direct flights between the two countries were cut after the 1979 revolution.