Despite efforts by the United States to prevent Iran from using its close economic ties with Iraq to buy secondhand airliners Iran has been able to buy twenty second-hand airliners so far this year. This was made possible because Russia was willing to look the other way as some of the transactions were handled by Russian banks and companies and because the violence in Syria and Iraq has made a lot of wealthy men in both nations desperate enough to risk getting outlawed by helping make these deals happen. Then there’s the usual corruption that is so pervasive throughout the Middle East.
The Iranian airlines have about 140 aircraft, most of them second-hand Western models. The new acquisitions reduced the average age of these aircraft from 20 to 19 years. That’s because these were all second-hand but not as old as current Iranian airliners. Most of the additions were AirBus models that will replace older and less reliable aircraft, often of the same type. Some of the newly acquired aircraft were bought just for their parts, in order to keep other aircraft operational. Iran actually has 250 commercial aircraft but nearly half of them are inoperable because of age and difficulties in getting spare parts. While Iran spends a lot of money smuggling in aviation parts a lot of the stuff obtained (especially items made in Russia and China) are counterfeit and dangerous. This, plus the age of most aircraft, means Iranian airliners have one of the highest accident rates in the world.
In the last decade the U.S. has been successful in shutting down nearly all Iranian access to American airliners and parts. This came after a number of embarrassing incidents in which Iran managed to obtain second-hand B-747s. In 2008, for example, Iran got three 747s via a British broker (who was later prosecuted and fined). Over the years Iran has obtained a dozen 747s but only five are still operational. Iran prefers AirBus aircraft these days because smugglers find these easier to obtain and slip into Iran. Parts for AirBus aircraft are also easier to come by on the black marker.
Despite all these efforts many of these airliners are still sidelined for years at a time for lack of key spare parts (like engines). Iranian aviation officials admit that once sanctions are lifted Iran will go shopping for at least 400 new airliners. AirBus expects to get most of that business.