Early Delivery of Iran Air’s First Boeing Jetliner in Doubt
On April 10, 2017, news broke that Iran Air was to receive its first new Boeing jetliner nearly one year earlier than expected, with delivery slated for mid-May. This was to be the first aircraft of eighty for which Boeing and Iran Air signed a $16.6 billion in December 2016. Deliveries for the order, which include fifty 737 MAX 8s and thirty 777s in two variants, were slated to begin in December 2018.
The aircraft in question was originally built for Turkish Airlines with the registration TC-LJK. Deemed superfluous to requirements before delivery, the plane was to be sold by Turkish to Iran Air, where it would fly with the registration EP-IQA. Prior to reassignment, the jetliner, a Boeing 777-300ER, would need to be repainted in Iran Air colors.
This was to take place in Victorville, California, where International Aerospace Coatings (IAC), a Boeing contractor, operates a program painting liveries for 777 aircraft. Initial reports suggested that TC-LJK would fly to Victorville on April 13 for repainting, following a visit by an Iran Air certification team to ensure the Iranians were happy to acquire the jetliner in its current configuration.
But new reports suggest that the deal has stalled.
Flight data shows that TC-LJK, operating as BOE549, remains in Everett, and has not moved since a short test flight on April 7.
This suggests that the repainting has not been completed. It might be that Iran Air requested alterations to the configuration of the aircraft, which would be made at Everett and would have delayed repainting. But the more likely explanation is that Iran Air is no longer able to secure the early acquisition.
An April 22 post on Paine Field News, a blog site which tracks production of aircraft at Boeing’s Everett factory, cites an unnamed source at the manufacturer to claim that the “Turkish-Iran Air deal for TC-LJK is officially dead” and that Turkish airlines has decided to take delivery of the aircraft as originally intended.
Yet just two days prior, on April 20, the same website cited the same unnamed source to suggest that deal was still alive and that Iran Air inspection teams had visited Everett to view the aircraft.
Something must have changed in the calculation of Boeing, Turkish Airlines, and Iran Air on or around April 21.
It is worth noting that an early delivery of the aircraft to Iran Air became much more difficult on April 19, when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made an extended address to the press in which he highlighted “Iran’s alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence.” The tone of this address, and the reaction it elicited in the media, certainly meant that there would have been a heightened impact on Boeing’s corporate reputation and that of any facilitating banks had the delivery to Iran Air gone ahead in the subsequent weeks. While Boeing has lobbied that its deal with Iran Air supports American jobs, critics of the deal were buoyed by Tillerson’s apparent acknowledge of concerns over the appropriateness of US-trade with Iran, despite confirmed adherence to commitments under JCPOA.
It may be that Boeing, Iran Air, and Turkish Airlines decided to take a wait-and-see approach on the Trump Administration's rhetoric on Iran. Certainly, even if Iran Air is unable to receive TC-LJK, there remain other "orphaned" jetliners on the market which Boeing can help direct to its Iranian client. An acquisition during the summer remains possible. Given the importance of the Boeing-Iran Air deal as a landmark contract for Iran's post-sanctions trade, the race will be on to make a successful delivery.
Photo Credit: Wikicommons