Last updated: 04:38 PM ET, Fri February 05 2016

Iran’s Aviation Resurgence: Will Tehran Become the Next Dubai?

Airlines & Airports | Paul Thompson | February 05, 2016

Iran’s Aviation Resurgence: Will Tehran Become the Next Dubai?

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

What immediately pops into your head when you think of Iran? Much of your impression may depend on your age, but there probably aren’t many people who just think, “I’d really like to go there!” But after the recent lift of economic sanctions on the country, Iran is planning a big comeback — leading some to hint that it may be “The Next Dubai.”

Iran, like much of that region, has been embroiled in political and religious turmoil since Biblical times. But in 1995, the Clinton administration imposed heavy sanctions against the country for allegedly sponsoring such terrorism groups as Hezbollah and Hamas. The goal was to keep Iran from modernizing its petroleum production facilities, causing a huge impact on the nation’s economy. One other part of those sanctions was that it kept Iran from buying aircraft parts made in the United States.

READ MORE: Iran Preparing For Major Tourist Influx

For over two decades now, commercial aviation in Iran has been in a sad state. Iran’s population numbers roughly 79 million, yet there are only 251 commercial planes in the country. Of those, only 150 are operational. Just 9 of Iran’s 67 airports are operational. The planes in the country’s airline fleets are literally crumbling, because they can’t order any parts.

There have been dozens of crashes, claiming hundreds of lives. Most of the planes airlines are using in Iran are outdated types you wouldn’t find in U.S. airline fleets. Simply put, it’s not very safe to fly an Iranian airline. As of December 2015, all but 12 of their national airline (Iran Air) aircraft were banned from flying within the European Union.

Fast forward to last month, when the U.S. officially lifted Iran’s sanctions, after they agreed to curtail their nuclear program. The agreement released $100 billion in assets to the country, according to the New York Times. Within just a few days, aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing were pitching plane sales to Iran’s leaders.

On Thursday, Airbus announced Iran had ordered 118 brand new planes. The order includes 12 A380s, 15 A350-1000s, 18 A330 neos, 27 current generation A330s, 24 A320 neos, and 21 current generation A320s.

"Today’s announcement is the start of re-establishing our civil aviation sector into the envy of the region and along with partners like Airbus we’ll ensure the highest world standards,” said Mr Farhad Parvaresh, Iran Air Chairman and CEO. Transportation Minister Abbas Akhoundi said they plan to order up to 500 long- and short-range commercial planes, and plan to begin receiving them as early as this March. While no aircraft orders have been placed through Boeing, the potential is high.

READ MORE: Iran's Airlines To Make Huge Orders For New Planes

A story this week on The Daily Beast toys with the notion that the city could be the next air travel superpower, like Dubai. While it sounds unlikely, cities like Dubai and Doha would have sounded pretty absurd as connection hubs twenty years ago. Geographically, Tehran happens to be in a great location for pit stops between Asia and Europe, and Tehran was even a destination for PanAm during its heyday. In addition to buying Airbus planes, The Guardian reports a French firm has also been chosen to help develop a spacious new international terminal at its Imam Khomeini international airport.

Although it’s still early, it appears Iran is already firing on all cylinders in terms of making a comeback with its economy and infrastructure — already adding a half million barrels of daily oil exports, following the lift of its sanctions. It will be an interesting place to watch, to see if aviation establishes itself as an industry there. 

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