THE IRANIAN government has recently issued a press release stating talks for the joint production of Ukrainian Antonov 148/158 airliners in the Persian state are in their final stages. Interestingly, this is not the first time the two countries have concluded such a deal. In 2000, an agreement allowed Iran’s HESA production company to manufacture the 50-seat An-140 turboprop under a similar license agreement. That deal was to see over 80 aircraft produced and delivered to various Iranian airlines, however to date, less than 20 have been built.
The history of that programme questions the credibility of this latest development, deeming it as more hot air and a bitter retort from Iran to the ongoing sanctions from Western countries. As the cumulative age of Iranian fleets of Boeing and Airbus increase, the maintenance costs and associated safety issues is also on the rise. As a result, Iran has had to reluctantly turn to inferior aircraft produced in countries not participating in the sanctions for fleet renewal needs.
The Hesa IrAn-140 project was the result of a major fleet upgrade programme in Iran. Various airlines as well as the military operating the similarly sized Antonov 24, a dated 44-seat Soviet design. The Antonov 140 was found to be a suitable replacement and substantial investment was poured into bringing production to Iran. Thereupon, the project was deeply affected when a fatal crash of a demonstration flight killed many of the Antonov design and Engineering team in 2002 and never fully recovered from this tragedy. Subsequent An-140 crashes and the reputation it earned of being one of the most dangerous modern airliners sealed the fate (and failure) of the Hesa programme.
The An-148 story tells the tale of another unsuccessful attempt to bring Antonov’s reputation of making sub-level unsafe airliners to internationally approved standards. Dogged by reliability issues, the aircraft is roughly as costly to operate as a Boeing 737 classic; a product of the 1980′s. Its infamy was further solidified when a demonstration flight for the Burmese government crashed after one of the wings allegedly broke off mid-flight.
Iran’s turbulent history with Antonov makes this latest news seem unlikely to come to fruition. It does, however, highlight the effect that the political sanctions have had on preventing the acquisition of much needed modern airliners. This need became all too evident when Iran Air flight 277 fatally-crashed last year. The type used; a Boeing 727-200 built over 30 years ago and worth more as scrap metal than a functional airliner, but with no way of replacing these planes, Iran Air’s only choice is to continue flying their B727s and other ageing fleets, or suspend operations until political relationships are re-aligned. Currently a tall and unlikely order.