Recently I wrote about Syrian Air, an airline faced with sanctions from the United States, pondering its next aircraft purchase, and is exploration of the Tupolev TU-204 as a possible aircraft to replace its aging fleets. While Syrian Air turns toward Russia for its fleet, an Iran Air subsidiary, another airline dealing the challenges of operating under U.S. sanctions, is finding opportunities to maneuver around the sanctions and replace its aging Russian aircraft with American made aircraft.
Iran Air is an interesting airline, and in fact for plane spotters, Iran can be paradise, as it is one of the only places left in the world where a visitor can have the opportunity to experience flights on a Boeing 747SP, Boeing 707-3J9C and Boeing 727-2/Adv. Throughout the roughly 30 year strife between the U.S. and Iran, Iran Air and its subsidiaries have continued to operate U.S. built aircraft.
Now as Iran Air Tours, a Middle East focused scheduled and charter subsidiary of Iran Air is seeking replace its fleet of aging Soviet built Tupolev TU-154s the airline is turning towards adding additional Boeing MD-83s to its fleet.
Presently Iran Air Tours has already imported five Boeing MD-83s, with an additional eight MD-83s expected to be delivered to the airline within the next few months. The MD-83s are almost a perfect match for the TU-154s, with Iran Air Tours operating its TU-154Ms with 150 seats (10 first class & 140 economy class) and the MD-83 capable of 155 seats in a two-class configuration.
While the MD-83’s range is approximately 380 miles less than the TU-154M, the aircraft is still well within the range of Iran Air Tour’s destinations, and offers the airline significantly lower operating costs, with only two engines compared to the TU-154Ms three engines and dramatically reduced fuel consumption.
Iran Air and Iran Air Tours focus on replacing aging Soviet era aircraft are aimed and improving the conditions of the nations aviation industry. There are some political barbs aimed at the U.S. sanctions in regard to maintenance issues such as Tehran blaming crashes on the airlines’ inability to access original equipment manufacturer parts for aircraft due to the sanctions … however part of this change over of aircraft also address the European Union’s ban on certain Iran Air aircraft, including the TU-154Ms that fly charter service to Europe.
Interestingly, Iran Air Tours had originally placed an order for five Tupolev TU-204s, with an option for 30 additional aircraft, to replace its TU-154Ms, but when the American made Pratt & Whitney engines were unavailable due to U.S. sanctions they nixed the order determining that the available PC-90A engines were not cost effective or operationally viable for the airlines. The TU-204 with PC-90A engines that Iran Air Tours rejected is the same configuration that Syrian Air is strongly considering for their fleet modernization.
Politics aside, Iran Air and its subsidiaries have worked hard to get around significant political obstacles to maintain a strong airline. While airlines facing similar challenges, such as Syrian Air, find their fleet dwindling and their global airline presence fading away, Iran Air manages to fly a regular schedule to major business destinations throughout Europe and Asia, flying a relatively modern fleet including the Boeing 747-400, 747-200, Airbus A300, A310, A320 and A340-200.
In terms of airliners, the TU-154M is a classic, with a long and rich history, with more than 1,000 aircraft produced between since its launch in 1968 … however Iran Air Tours TU-154Ms were quite aged and the MD-83s is a superior aircraft for the airline … even if acquiring them requires some back door wheeling-and-dealing to get around political and economic road blocks.