- CANCUN – “Iran is a country hungry for new aircraft.” Farhad Parvaresh, Iran Air’s CEO.
Andreas Spaeth talks back to Farhad Parvaresh, the soft-spoken Chief Executive of the Iranian national carrier, at the IATA AGM in Cancun. This takes place after meeting him in Toulouse last January, at the landmark delivery of an A321; the first new aircraft to Iran Air in over two decades.
Airways: Has the perception, the image of Iran Air within Iran, changed since you received the first new Western aircraft in January?
Farhad Parvaresh: Very much so, the people in Iran are very happy about it. Not only the ones who are flying them as passengers themselves, but also those knowing that their relatives are flying on them. They see the new aircraft as a visible fruit of the nuclear agreement that was achieved. This is something that everybody has such feeling about.
Did you personally experience this already?
Yes. On my way to the IATA AGM in Cancun, I flew on one of our new A330s from Tehran to Paris a few days ago. As I waited for my luggage to arrive, about five Iranians recognized me, came up to me and thanked me.
They said they used to fly with other carriers with newer aircraft. But now they would be happy to fly always on Iran Air with the new aircraft. It’s a big boost for our image, and for the first time, we are able to compete on international routes with other carriers.
Is it the same on the domestic market?
Yes, it is. The only A321 we have flies domestic routes and goes to most of the bigger Iranian cities. And we know that people are checking our schedules to see where the aircraft flies to, and then buy tickets specifically to fly on it.
They really want to test this new aircraft, after they had to make do with our sometimes 25-year-old fleet; and the fact that many passengers have never been on a new aircraft at all.
How many new aircraft does Iran Air operate today?
Seven in total. Two months after the first A321 in January, we received the first A330-200, and then 20 days later the second A330 as the third aircraft. And in May we received four ATR 72s, all at the same.
We flew them from Toulouse via Athens to Tehran, and I was on the first aircraft. That was very unique. Step by step, we started to put the ATRs into operation to smaller airports.
How come there is an early emphasis also on regional routes?
That was the intention of the Iranian government: to also let smaller communities benefit from the new aircraft as a result of the nuclear agreement, not just international routes. And we are very happy with it.
The airports we serve with the ATRs were almost not covered by scheduled flights of any Iranian carrier before, because of lack of equipment. The airport infrastructure is in place, but there was just a lack of suitable aircraft to serve them before.
The smallest aircraft we had in Iran so far were in the range of MD-80s or A320s, so about 150 seaters. And they would have had load factors of no more than 50% to these smaller cities. So it is a new layer of regional traffic we are introducing with these very suitable aircraft.
What makes the ATRs so fitting for you?
It’s very beneficial for us that we don’t need to do big investments in ground handling with them, as you don’t need ground power, starter or pushback trucks with the ATRs. So we hope that by connecting smaller cities to the mega cities, they can feed our larger aircraft there.
So far, about 90% of the domestic passengers in Iran have been carried between just about ten airports. So now we hope to be able to cover basically the whole country with 50 or 60 airports.
The rail and road infrastructure in Iran is not yet complete and sufficient for people’s needs, and as Iran is a big country getting around by road or rail, it takes a huge amount of time.
Why did it take longer than expected to get the first ATRs delivered?
The main problem were legal issues with the engines. Because we could not finalize the contract with Pratt & Whitney Canada and ATR agreed to take up responsibility until P&W Canada could take over the support.
How many new aircraft will you get this year?
The plan calls for us to receive another five ATRs until the end of 2017, starting in August or September, and a further eleven in 2018, bringing it to the total 20 we ordered. And from Airbus, we hope to receive two A320s by the end of the year.
We are intentionally building up the new fleet slowly because we have to manage the arrivals and train pilots and technicians. We have done it for the A321 and the A330s while the ATR training is still in progress.
Did you also start to phase out older aircraft already, as you have received new ones?
Not yet. The plan is to phase out another two in the near future as we receive more new aircraft. The first to go are our own Fokker 100s and the MD-80s we have leased under ACMI agreements. We will send them back.
What about the deal with Boeing, when will you see the first aircraft from Seattle?
That is still in the future, but according to plan, the first Boeing 777-300ER will be delivered in April 2018.
The Boeing technical people were in Tehran two weeks ago, and they are working with our technical people on finalizing all remaining issues. But everything is under control.
Don’t you anticipate any political roadblocks preventing the Boeing deliveries, with the Trump administration being unpredictable?
Anything can happen, but so far everything is going according to schedule. If something is happening, we have to face it. But the fact that something might happen is not an excuse to not do anything.
We have to do our job. There are rules in the nuclear agreement, and the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency have always stated that Iran has done what it is supposed to do. So there is no reason to block this Boeing deal in our opinion.
If there is a snapback or new sanctions are imposed, our politicians should take the necessary actions.
Did any other Iranian airline receive any new aircraft already?
Not yet. Iran Aseman Airlines has an MOU with Boeing already for about 30 737MAXs. But Boeing has to obtain the licenses for this deal, so maybe it will be successful later on.
Do you have all the necessary licenses for your Boeing deal yet?
We have the licenses for the Airbus, ATR, and Boeing purchases from the U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC).
The Treasury Department in the U.S. has to release these licenses based on the nuclear agreement. We very much hope they can also do it for Iran Aseman Airlines. Iran is a country hungry for new aircraft. We badly need about 300 new aircraft in the next ten years or so.
How many new aircraft do you expect to have in your fleet by the end of 2018?
I suppose it should be ten to twelve jets plus the 20 ATRs.
With Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries closing their airspace to Qatari aircraft this week, most are re-routed through Iranian airspace. Does this affect your operations in any way?
According to my information, there are now about one hundred more overflights a day than before. But it doesn’t affect us in any way. There is no issue: Iranian airspace could accept many more aircraft.
So are you optimistic that the renewal of Iranian aviation will progress as planned?
Yes, I am very much an optimist. It is not easy, but it is working out so far. In less than five months we have received seven aircraft, and they are in operation. That is more than could be expected.