Boeing Co. said it gained U.S. approval to sell the first jetliners to Iran in almost 40 years, as trade between the nations thaws following a nuclear pact.
The license, granted by an obscure U.S. Treasury Department bureau, comes as Boeing continues to negotiate terms to provide as many as 109 jetliners to Iran Air, the Chicago-based planemaker said in an e-mailed statement.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control has already issued licenses for the first 17 jets that Airbus Group SE is exporting to Iran under a $27 billion order for 118 jets announced in January as economic sanctions were eased.
“Any final sales agreement would have to adhere to the license we’ve been issued,” Mark Sklar, a spokesman for Boeing, said by e-mail.
Boeing’s last airplane deliveries to Iran were 747 jumbos that arrived in 1977, two years before revolution roiled the country, according to the company’s website. The Islamic Republic’s flag carrier would add more of the iconic, hump-backed 747s, as well as the 777 and upgraded 777X wide-body jets under a $17.6-billion order for 80 Boeing aircraft. Boeing is also helping Iran Air line up another 29 planes from leasing companies.
Boeing faces risks and uncertain rewards as it vies with Airbus to replace Iran’s museum-vintage fleet. Congressional opponents have vowed to block the exports. The U.S. planemaker may also need to leave wiggle room to back out of any potential orders if the next U.S. president decides to reinstate sanctions.
There’s also no assurance that all the orders will materialize, given the uncertain finances of Iranian airlines and competition from their Persian Gulf counterparts.
Opponents of the Boeing deal pointed out that the Treasury imposed sanctions on Iran Air in 2011 for using passenger and cargo planes to transport rockets and missiles to places such as Syria, sometimes disguised as medicine or spare parts. At other times, members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards took control of flights carrying sensitive cargo. Those sanctions were lifted in July 2015 after the nuclear deal was signed.