Tehran Buys Airbus Planes Despite Boeing’s Lobbying for Nuclear Deal

Iran announces purchase of 114 commercial airliners from French competitor

Hassan Rouhani and Francois Hollande / AP
Hassan Rouhani and Francois Hollande / AP
January 29, 2016

Aerospace giant Boeing lobbied hard for the nuclear deal that lifted sanctions on Iran, but the Iranian regime announced on Thursday that it would spend billions to buy aircraft from French competitor Airbus.

Boeing spent millions of dollars since late last year on a lobbying operation that pushed for Iranian sanctions relief. It expected to be a major beneficiary of the lifting of sanctions on Iran’s aviation sector, despite U.S. lawmakers’ concerns that that sector supports Tehran’s international terrorist proxies.

Though Boeing has long eyed business opportunities in Iran, it failed to show up at last week’s CAPA Iran Aviation Summit, the first such event in Iran in nearly 40 years.

The company cited visa trouble, though some speculated that the State Department had discouraged Boeing from attending to avoid the appearance that U.S. companies that supported the Iran deal were profiting from its implementation.

Airbus walked away from the conference with a 114-plane purchase order from Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization (CAO). Iranian state-run media pegged the deal at $50 billion. Other observers estimated it was worth about $27 billion.

Iran is expected to expand its commercial airline fleet by hundreds of planes in the wake of U.S. and E.U. sanctions relief.

"Iranian airlines will carefully examine all options for the country's new aviation fleet purchases and definitely will not restrict their choices to a single country or aircraft manufacturing company," according to senior CAO official Mohammad Khodakarami.

"We will purchase planes from Boeing and Airbus in equal numbers," Khodakarami told Iran’s Press TV last year.

So far its buying spree is one-sided, even though Boeing spent considerable money for its large roster of lobbyists to push for the Iran nuclear deal.

A team of 11 lobbyists with the Monument Policy Group pushed the Iran deal on Boeing’s behalf, according to disclosure forms. They included former aides to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), House Ways and Means chairman Kevin Brady (R., Texas), and House Armed Services ranking member Adam Smith (D., Wash.), as well as a former White House senior counsel and special adviser to the president.

Boeing’s in-house lobbying shop, which spent nearly $5 million in the fourth quarter of 2015 alone, also reported working on "U.S.-Iran relations." The company did not respond to a request for comment on the Airbus deal.

If Boeing eventually reaches a deal with Iran’s CAO, it could have financial support from U.S. taxpayers thanks to efforts in Congress to block measures prohibiting such support to countries that the U.S. considers state sponsors of terrorism.

An amendment to a transportation funding measure that would have prevented U.S. Export-Import Bank subsidies for Iranian purchases of U.S. goods was defeated last year despite concerns that Iran’s commercial aviation sector supports terrorist proxy groups.