US pushes back decision on Iran passenger jet approval

Iran said the United States would now wait until the end of this month before deciding whether to approve export licences enabling Tehran to rebuild its civil aviation sector, according to a senior Iranian official on Sunday.

Approval had been expected by the end of August, but that has been pushed back to the end of September, the deputy roads and urban development minister Asghar Fakhrieh Kashan said.

“Today we are expecting that [approval] by the end of September for Boeing, Airbus and [European turboprop maker] ATR,” he told the Capa Iran Aviation Finance Summit in Tehran.

The US treasury can veto sales of modern aircraft to Iran, including non-US ones, due to the high proportion of US parts.

An IranAir official said the airline is meanwhile looking to acquire second-hand aircraft or hire crewed aircraft to help to meet its most urgent needs.

Iran had earlier urged the United States on Sunday to remove remaining obstacles to it buying passenger planes. Tehran provisionally agreed this year to buy more than 200 jets worth US$50 billion at list prices from Airbus and Boeing under an agreement between Iran and world powers to ease sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear activities.

There have also been delays in getting European banks to finance the deals because of restrictions over the use of US dollars and concerns over legal risks if sanctions are re-imposed.

The roads and urban development minister Abbas Akhoundi said Iran was complying with its obligations and meanwhile continued to negotiate with other plane makers.

“We are negotiating with all those big names … There are a lot of obstacles but I am sure that because we have respected all the international rules and regulations, all those problems are going to be resolved,” he told the Capa summit, the second large gathering of aviation leaders in Tehran since sanctions were lifted in January.

Critics in the US Congress argue that Iran could use passenger jets for military purposes such as transporting fighters to battle US troops or allies in Syria or transfer the aircraft to airlines still under US sanctions.

US critics of the nuclear deal also say it could allow Iran to skirt remaining sanctions by transferring jets acquired by the national carrier IranAir to airlines that remain on a US blacklist, such as the country’s largest carrier, Mahan Air.

The house of representatives in July passed two amendments that would stop the aircraft sales, although to become law they need to be approved by the senate and signed by the US president Barack Obama.

Iran estimates it will need at least 400 aircraft to renew and expand its fleet, including some 250 in the next 10 years.

The country is also planning nationwide airport expansion.

“There are more than 60 airports in Iran but 80 per cent of flights are in just 10 and these are working beyond capacity; that is why we need to develop,” Mr Akhoundi said.

“They are all ready to attract investors, who are welcome to invest in any part,” he told the conference held at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport, which plans a $2.8bn expansion.

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