"Inflated" prices for spares and support on Boeing fleet puts European manufacturer in driving seat

Iran Air is stepping up efforts to renew its ageing fleet of Boeing aircraft as US sanctions hinder maintenance and put Airbus in the driving seat for any new deal.

Speaking exclusively to Flight International, chairman and chief executive Davood Keshavarzian says that, because of the continuing sanctions imposed by the USA, Iran Air has to pay "inflated prices for spares and support - we are getting the parts, but only by using longer supply chains, which require higher prices".

Iran Air's fleet consists largely of Boeings - six 727s, three 737-200s and seven 747s. It also has four ageing Airbus A300B4s that were introduced in the 1980s, six Fokker 100s and two A300-600Rs delivered new in the last decade. Over the past year, seven secondhand Airbus A310-200/300s have joined the carrier's fleet.

The sanctions mean Iran Air's fleet utilisation is below internationally accepted levels, says Keshavarzian, "as we sometimes have to ground an aircraft until we receive spares".

He says the International Civil Aviation Organisation should have a policy on this issue because "it is morally wrong, and manufacturers have an obligation to their customers to provide support at acceptable prices".

Iran Air's fleet has an average age of 21 years and Keshavarzian says the airline's owner, the Iranian government, "has funds available for [a fleet renewal]". With the sanctions also preventing Iran Air from buying new Boeings, "Airbus has a major opportunity to enter the Iranian market", he adds.

But the European manufacturer must come up with a workable offer, he says. Airbus senior management "seems to be too conservative, and is unwilling to help us find answers to obtain spares and support, particularly for engines". Keshavarzian says any deal with Iran Air would pave the way for future success with other carriers in the country.

Instead of adding new aircraft to the fleet, Iran Air has had to use subsidiary Iran Air Tours for expansion by leasing Russian aircraft. "Our passengers do not like the Russian interiors and would rather fly on Western aircraft," says Keshavarzian.

The airline is concentrating on building services to northern Europe, but Keshavarzian says there are plans to revive operations to the USA and Canada where there is a "strong Iranian market". Last year Iran Air carried 5.9 million passengers, while Iran Air Tours carried 1.98 million.

n The Iranian government is examining plans to rationalise the country's eight major airlines, all of which have substantial state ownership. A plan to merge Iran Air, Iran Air Tours and Iran Asseman Airlines into one major operation is being considered, with a second group to be created by consolidating Aria Air, Caspian Airlines, Kish Air, Mahan Air, Qeshm Air and a number of other smaller regional operators.

Source: Flight International