By Tim Hepher
PARIS (Reuters) – The head of IranAir took delivery in France on Wednesday of the first Western airliner under an international sanctions deal, calling it a "sunny day" for relations between Iran and Europe and a memorable one for aviation in the nation of 80 million people.
Chairman Farhad Parvaresh invited Fabrice Bregier, the head of plane-making at Airbus, to fly on the new A321 to Tehran, where the airline plans to mark its arrival in its fleet with a ceremony on Thursday.
The 189-seat plane, already painted in IranAir's livery, is the first of 100 ordered from Airbus following a deal reached in 2015 between Tehran and world powers to lift sanctions against Iran in return for curbs on the country's nuclear activities.
The airline has also ordered 80 aircraft from Boeing and is in the final stages of negotiating an order for 20 turboprops from Toulouse-based ATR, which is jointly owned by Airbus and Italy's Leonardo Finmeccanica.
Highlighting Iran‘s emergence from years of isolation, the Airbus delivery marks the first brand-new jet directly acquired from a Western manufacturer for decades, other than the replacement of an Airbus jet shot down by the U.S. Navy in 1988.
Republicans in the U.S. Congress have objected to the nuclear pact, signed by the United States, Britain, Russia, France, China, Germany, and Iran.
It also faces opposition from hardliners in Iran.
Parvaresh said he hoped the United States would not block the agreement under President-elect Donald Trump, who at times has pledged to pull Washington out of the nuclear accord.
Both Airbus and Boeing need U.S. export licenses to deliver the jets because of the number of U.S. parts.
Both have received licenses but Boeing needs to have the majority extended due to the lengthy delivery period and analysts expect it to point to the Airbus delivery in order to press the case for its sales to remain in force.
"Everything has been done according to the international regulations and rules up to now. We hope that nothing special happens to end this contract," Parvaresh told reporters.
The first Airbus aircraft will enter service on Saturday starting on busy domestic routes such as Tehran to Mashhad for the next couple of months, he said.
IranAir hopes to receive "at least two more from Airbus" by the start of the Iranian new year in March, and a total of six A320 aircraft in calendar year 2017, he added.
It also expects to receive three larger A330 jets in 2017.
IranAir could also receive one to two turboprop aircraft by the Iranian new year, but a contract has yet to be signed.
"We are very optimistic we can finalize it in January or so," Parvaresh said.
The arrival of new aircraft will allow IranAir "step by step" to phase out elderly planes including Fokker 100 regional aircraft serving domestic routes, Parvaresh said.
Analysts say IranAir has one of the world's oldest airliner fleets, held together until now by smuggled or improvised parts.