Photographer: Manuel Velasquez/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Airbus Jets on Post-Sanctions Shopping List as Rouhani Visits EU

  • Iran's 114 Airbus purchase may include A380, A320, A321 planes
  • Purchase to be finalized this week during Rouhani's Paris trip

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, freed from the sanctions that pinched his nation’s economy for a decade, heads to Europe this week where he may sign a deal to buy 114 Airbus Group SE jets and about 17 billion euros ($18.4 billion) of Italian contracts.

The purchase may include the double-decker A380 superjumbo jet as well as A320 family of aircraft, Iran Air Chairman and Managing Director Farhad Parvaresh said in an interview. The first of the 114 aircraft intended for Iran Air are expected to be delivered before March 21, Mehr news agency reported, citing Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abbas Akhoundi.

Rouhani’s trip to Europe comes a week after the U.S. and other allies lifted economic sanctions designed to end Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The step opens the door for Iran to reach deals with companies in Europe and Asia, such as Airbus. With sanctions ended, Iran may trigger at least $50 billion a year in foreign investment to finance a rebound in an economy hit by the oil slump, the country’s central bank governor said last week.

Rouhani is in Rome Monday through Wednesday to speak to a business group, then travel to Paris on Thursday for a meeting with President Francois Hollande.

In Italy, the president may sign as many as a dozen accords with Italian companies, with the value of about 17 billion euros, according to a government official who requested anonymity to discuss the issue before an announcement. Italy once was Iran’s biggest European trading partner, before the nuclear sanctions ended commercial ties.

Iran is open to foreign investment in its airline sector, Akhoundi told a gathering of 300 aviation executives in Tehran. The Islamic Republic needs 500 planes over the next decade to replace a fleet that’s 20 years old on average. It has several airlines that will need to be upgraded and expanded.

When asked if the A380 will be included in the Airbus plans, Parvaresh said: “Yes, it can include everything, A380, A320 and A321.”

Airbus didn’t comment on specifics. “We are studying our way forward in view of the recent development - in full compliance with all international laws,” an Airbus spokesperson said by e-mail, referring to the lifting of the sanctions. “We do not comment on talks which might or might not be ongoing with potential new or existing customers.”

Iran Air plans to add both Boeing and Airbus aircraft to its fleet, as it already has operated a mix of both, but is open to other manufacturers, Parvaresh said. Iran Air is seeking to add at least 20 regional jets to its fleet. Bombardier Inc. has made a presentation of its products but is awaiting necessary Canadian government approvals to work in Iran.

While a purchase of 114 Airbus planes was announced last week, Boeing didn’t show up at the Iran Aviation Summit in Tehran where a wide gathering of government, airline and airport officials were present. Akhoundi said Boeing is “unfortunately not here,” while carriers such as Iran Air expressed interest in the U.S. company’s planes. Iran’s interest in the A380 was first reported by Reuters.

The nuclear accord and the lifting of sanctions doesn’t repair a U.S.-Iran relationship ruptured by the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979, in which dozens of American diplomats and citizens were held hostage for over a year, and has been further frayed by Iran’s missile tests and support for terrorist groups.

The purchase of 114 aircraft will “most likely” be made by the National Development Fund, Ahmadreza Bayati Doosti, vice president of international cooperation at Iran Airports Company, said in an interview. The A380 may be among planes to be received in three to four years but Iran’s current priority is to focus on short and medium-haul flights, he said.

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