What Happened To Iran Air’s Giant Airbus Order?

At one point, IranAir had 118 Airbus aircraft on order, worth around $25 billion at list prices. This order included aircraft from nearly every Airbus commercial aircraft range, including the A380. What happened to this order?

What happened to the huge Airbus order? Photo: IranAir

What was the order?

In 2015, the US government decided that the sanctions prohibiting Iran from ordering new aircraft were no more. As soon as they heard the news, IranAir went on a shopping spree.

The previous decades had not been kind to the airline. Restrictions meant that the air fleet for the country was ancient, well above the average of its competitors at 24.1 years. As well as this, many aircraft were grounded due to lack of spare parts, and lucrative markets (such as the United States) were not available for the airline as destinations. It could not even refuel in Europe.

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Thus the 2015 lifting was considered a significant blessing, and the airline used it to overhaul its fleet as well as to have an option to refuel at many European destinations. The carrier made two significant orders, one with Airbus and another with Boeing.

The Airbus order was:

  • 21 A320ceos (some A321s)
  • 24 A320neos (some A321neos)
  • 27 from the A330ceo Family (split between the A330-200 and A330-300)
  • 18 A330-900neo aircraft
  • 16 A350-1000s
  • 12 A380s.

What is fascinating is that the order has both aircraft like the older A330 and the newer A350-1000. We can’t say for sure why, but it may have something to do with what happened next.

Details of the Boeing order can be read here. IranAir would also make an order for regional aircraft from ATR and Bombardier.

Airbus A380 IranAir
IranAir even had some Airbus A380s on order. Photo: Simple Flying / Arpingstone via Wikimedia

What happened to the order?

Right from the get-go, one significant part of the order vanished. IranAir decided not to proceed with the A380 aircraft for a variety of reasons (you can read them here).

The order was signed and dated, and sent off to the press. Fulfillment of these orders was slow, as significant banking firms were reluctant to back the deal as they felt at anytime sanctions may reappear on the country. Without pre-delivery payments from IranAir, Airbus was cautious to start building the aircraft.

“You have got to make pre-delivery payments where aircraft get into production, so we are doing it on perhaps a lower basis than we thought, but we still believe that it will work out,” Airbus sales chief John Leahy told Reuters in an interview.

With three deliveries of Airbus jet aircraft and a few ATR turboprops, it looked as if the order would be complete just past 2020.

Iran Air Airbus A321
IranAir needs a whole fleet of new aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

That is, until the 2016 US election. A change in the political wind in the US presidency (which we won’t get into detail here) involved overhauling, or rather re-enforcing sanctions with Iran.

In 2018, the United States officially pulled away from the Iran deal and imposed sanctions. The new rules gave both Airbus and Boeing 90 days to deliver any aircraft for IranAir –  a deadline that is impossible to meet for the order of this size. Perhaps this is the reason why IranAir ordered several older aircraft in the hope that they could buy them before any additional restrictions came back.

Thus the US blocked off the deal with the carrier, costing both Airbus and Boeing billions.

The Airbus order is not technically canceled, unlike the Boeing order. Perhaps the European planemaker is waiting to see if things change in the 2020 election and have told its future client to be patient. We will have to wait and see.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.