Second major deal since sanctions were eased

RENTON: Photo shows the rear tail of the first Boeing 737 MAX 9 airplane during its rollout for media at the Boeing factory in Renton, Washington. US plane maker Boeing said that Iran’s Aseman Airlines had agreed to buy 30 737 MAX jets for $3.0 billion in its second major deal since sanctions were eased last year.— AFP

NEW YORK: US plane maker Boeing said yesterday that Iran's Aseman Airlines had agreed to buy 30 737 MAX jets for $3.0 billion in its second major deal since sanctions were eased last year. "Boeing confirms the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with Iran Aseman Airlines, expressing the airline's intent to purchase 30 Boeing 737 MAX airplanes with a list price value of $3 billion," the US group said in a statement. "The agreement also provides the airline with purchase rights for 30 additional 737 MAXs," it added. If finalized, delivery is expected to start in 2022, Boeing said, adding that a contract of this magnitude "creates or sustains approximately 18,000 jobs in the United States."

Iran has been desperate to renew its ageing fleet of planes, but was largely blocked from dealing with major aircraft manufacturers until a 2015 accord with world powers that eased global sanctions in exchange for curbs to its nuclear program. The US has maintained its own sanctions, which block almost all trade with Iran, but plane manufacturers were given a specific exemption under the nuclear deal. In September, Washington approved the sale of 80 Boeing and 100 Airbus planes to Iran Air. The first few Airbus jets have already arrived in Tehran.

The new deal with Aseman will also need approval from the US Office of Foreign Assets Control. "Boeing continues to follow the lead of the US government with regards to working with Iran's airlines, and any and all contracts with Iran's airlines are contingent upon US government approval," the company said.  Many US lawmakers have opposed the sales, saying that Iranian airlines have been used to ship weapons and troops to Syria and other conflict zones.  Iranian conservatives have also criticized the purchases, saying new planes will do little to improve Iran's stagnant economy.

Supporters on both sides have therefore tried to emphasize the employment opportunities. Even before the latest Boeing announcement, Iran's Civil Aviation Organization said plane purchases would create 20,000 direct jobs, and thousands more indirectly. "Currently, 500-700 co-pilots are unemployed in Iran," CAO official Mohammad Reza Kazemimpour told the Iran Daily newspaper on Monday, adding that the new fleets would bring "tens of billions of dollars in revenues for Iran".

Meanwhile, companies across the world are waiting to see whether US President Donald Trump makes good on his campaign threat to tear up the nuclear deal. The first test will come in June when he will decide on whether to renew the sanctions waivers that keep the deal in effect. Aseman currently has a fleet of 36 planes-half of them the 105-seat Dutch Fokker 100s. Its three Boeing 727-200s are almost as old as the Islamic revolution, having made their first flight in 1980. _ AFP