Russia Jets Past West in Race to Replace Iran's Aging Fleet of Passenger Planes

Russia Races To Sell Planes
A Russian Sukhoi Superjet 100 in Aeroflot livery sits on the tarmac ahead of the Farnborough Airshow 2012 in southern England July 8, 2012. Luke MacGregor/Reuters

After world powers announced this week that they had agreed to lift financial sanctions on Iran, Russia has already begun talks to sell much-needed passenger jets to the Islamic Republic, whose ancient planes have led to thousands of deaths in the past three decades.

Russia's Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov confirmed to reporters yesterday that talks between the two countries are underway, with Russia hoping to sell Sukhoi Superjet passenger planes to the Islamic Republic. Western companies, meanwhile, appear to have been left on the tarmac as they wait for the lifting of sanctions to be formalized.

The Superjet is the first passenger jet Russia has developed since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

"Such talks are being held," Sokolov told reporters. "And not only Superjets, but also other technology is being met with certain interest from our Iranian comrades."

Other international aviation companies, among them Boeing and Airbus, are likely to seek to enter the Iranian market, and competition could be fierce: The Iranians are looking to buy 400 new aircraft at a total cost of $20 billion, according to recent reports.

"There's no doubt there is huge potential, especially for Airbus and Boeing, to sell a large number of planes," Adam Pilarski, an economist and aerospace consultant told Bloomberg.

But in a statement Airbus said: "The agreement between Iran and the six nations has yet to be formalized and implemented. Once this takes place we will evaluate what commercial implications i‎t has in strict compliance with the accord."

Iran's civilian aviation industry is in dire need of a brand new fleet. According to Planespotters.net, a German website that tracks aircraft, the average age of its planes is 27 years, with some models dating back to the 1970s, due to Iran's inability to buy new planes as the sanctions tightened.

A string of crashes of Iranian aircraft in recent years, some of which resulted in fatalities, have been blamed on Iran's ageing fleet. There have been more than 200 accidents involving Iranian planes in the past 25 years, leading to more than 2,000 deaths, according to the BBC.

A crash last year near the capital Tehran resulted in the deaths of 40 on board. Iranian MPs blamed the country's aviation authorities at the time

"Effectively, the Iranians have been flying around on a hope and a prayer, says Chris Yates of Yates Consulting and one of the world's foremost experts on aviation safety. "There is a heck of a need to bring in much more modern aircraft, and obviously the Russians are trying to steal a march on the West, now that the sanctions have been lifted."

Yates explains that as a result of the sanctions, Iran was forced for many years to look to the black market to purchase unofficial spare parts. Now, he says, the country will be desperate to buy.

"Buying new aircraft will be foremost on their minds because none of their equipment they have available at the moment could possibly last very much longer," he says.