TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran has reached a deal with the European consortium Airbus to buy 114 passenger planes once international economic sanctions are lifted as part of a nuclear deal, Iran's transport minister said Saturday.
Abbas Akhondi was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying that the first shipment of planes will arrive in Iran before March 20 to upgrade Iran's aging fleet. Iran has said it is looking to buy 400 passenger planes over the next decade.
"An agreement was reached with Airbus to buy 114 planes to gradually enter carrier Iran Air fleet upon the lifting of sanctions," IRNA quoted Akhondi as saying.
He said an unspecified number of planes will arrive before Nowruz, Iran's new year, which falls on March 21.
Airbus did not confirm a formal agreement with Tehran. The company released a statement pointing out that the sanctions have yet to be lifted and the nuclear agreement has yet to be implemented. "Once it is, we will evaluate the commercial implications in strict compliance with any international accord," the statement said. "Airbus Group remains ready to support Iranian civil and para- public transportation sector development in strict compliance with all international laws."
Iran is already waiting for the imminent release of a U.N. compliance report that would trigger the lifting of sanctions under a landmark deal reached with world powers last July over the Islamic Republic's nuclear program.
Iran's aviation industry has suffered as a result of sanctions over the past three decades. Out of Iran's 250 commercial planes, about 150 are flying while the rest are grounded due to lack of spare parts.
Akhondi said Iran is already planning to also renovate its aviation industry by leasing planes since the country's airlines lack the financial liquidity to buy too many aircraft at once. He urged Iranian carriers to take steps to upgrade their fleets in the post-sanctions era.
"With the implementation of the nuclear deal, we will enter a new atmosphere in our interaction with the outside world and subsequently develop our aviation industry," he said.
Associated Press writer Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed to this report.