Iran Air First Female CEO Takes Office
44, has a PhD in aerospace. She was formerly a member of Iran Air’s
board as the director of the company’s research department.
“I hope I will be able to save the face of women in the aviation
industry and make them proud,” she told the Financial Tribune on
the sidelines of a formal ceremony held on the occasion of her
taking office in Homa
For the first time in Iran’s aviation history, a woman has taken the helm at
the national airline Iran Air which has signed deals with Airbus and Boeing
for the purchase of about 200 passenger planes.
Farzaneh Sharafbafi was named the new CEO of Iran Air in July, replacing
Farhad Parvaresh who is about to represent Iran at the International Civil
Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal, Canada.
Sharafbafi, 44, has a PhD in aerospace. She was formerly a member of Iran
Air’s board as the director of the company’s research department.
She has also helped implement several aviation projects and taught various
aerospace courses at the prestigious Amir Kabir University of Technology and
Shahid Sattari University of Aeronautical Engineering.
“I hope I will be able to save the face of women in the aviation industry
and make them proud,” she told the Financial Tribune on the sidelines of a
formal ceremony held on the occasion of her taking office in Homa
Addressing a crowd of government officials, Homa managers and reporters, she
said Iran Air should “boost capabilities to be able to utilize the existing
fleet in the best possible way.”
Among her plans, she referred to “a comprehensive renovation and
restructuring of Homa”, including the hierarchical and technical structures
as well as the company’s wage payment system; and also improvement of its
management regarding quality, safety and security.
She said she would “improve the quality of Iran Air’s services to give the
company a competitive edge in regional and global scale … through
cooperation with prominent global aviation companies …, ICAO and IATA.”
During the ceremony, the company bid farewell to Farhad Parvaresh who led
the airline for more than eight years, a period he described as the hardest
years for the flag carrier.
His term coincided with the toughest international sanctions on Iran’s
financial transactions, as well as tight international restrictions imposed
on Homa. And those came as the company was already subject to general
unilateral embargoes imposed by the United States since 1979.
In the late 1970s, Homa used to be an unrivaled airline in the Middle East
in terms of profitability and the second safest airline in the world. The
airline was launched in 1961, following a merger between Iranian
Airways—founded by private investors in the 40s—and Persian Air Services.
Shortly after the Islamic Revolution, Iran Air lost access to new planes,
manuals, spare parts and services from global plane makers. As its fleet
aged it lost international routes to emerging airlines in Turkey and Persian
But as the sanctions were toughened amid escalated tensions over Iran’s
nuclear program in 2010, the airline faced safety inspections by the
European Aviation Safety Agency and some of its planes were banned from
flying in EU airspace; though the EU denied the measure was related to the
Moreover, as of 2010, Homa’s planes were subject to a refueling ban in many
major European airports. Planes had to land in a third country to refuel on
their way home from a visit to Europe. This effectively increased flight
costs and led to significant delays.
Addressing the ceremony, Parvaresh said up to 60 of the company’s European
bank accounts were shut after 2010, and the company had to carry cash to
make and receive payments.
These restrictions were eased after the nuclear crisis came to an end. A
landmark deal between Iran and the world powers was signed in 2015, and went
into effect in January 2016, to grant Iran a relief from sanctions in
exchange for limits on the country’s nuclear program.
The flag carrier secured massive orders from giant plane manufacturers
afterwards. Its orders include 100 Airbus, 80 Boeing and 20 ATR passenger
planes, with an aggregate value of $20-30 billion, based on Iranian
estimates. The list prices top $30 billion.
Iran has so far been delivered seven aircraft. The three Airbus and four ATR
planes have all been financed by their manufacturers. Airbus and ATR have
agreed to finance a few more.
However, the prospects of financing the rest of the planes are still murky,
as major European banks and big financial institutions are still hesitant to
engage with Iran fearing US penalties.
Speaking to the Financial Tribune after the ceremony, Head of Iran Civil
Aviation Organization Ali Abedzadeh said Iran and the plane makers have yet
to figure out a financing solution.
“Talks are still in progress,” he said, adding financing issues should be
resolved before Iran Air receives the rest of the planes.
As part of the plane deals, 32 aircraft are scheduled to land in Iran by the
end of 2018. Those include 16 turboprop ATR planes, five of them are to be
delivered by the end of December.
According to the Deputy Minister of Roads and Urban Development Asghar
Fakhrieh-Kashan, Iran hopes to resolve the financing issues by putting out a
tender, in which 10 companies from Japan, Norway, Denmark, China, Ireland
and Britain have already expressed readiness.
The Iranian carrier is scheduled to receive four Airbus A320s by the
yearend, five of the European plane maker’s A321s and four A330s next year.
Three Boeing 737 deliveries are also planned for 2018.
The financing of the planes will be a challenge for Iran Air’s newly
But even when the financing deals are finalized, there are other major steps
Iran Air should take to optimize its revenues from the new jets.
While Homa has acquired a handful of new jets, this now needs to be matched
with new routes and greater connectivity and codeshare pacts so that
travelers have more options beyond Iran Air’s current network.
Moreover, alongside attempts to renew its aging fleet, officials are
considering listing the company on both Tehran Stock Exchange and
international equity markets. However, an outdated and uneconomical
structure is tying their hands for the time being.
According to Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abbas Akhoundi, the
airline plans to meet international standards through enhanced management
and training to pave the way for its privatization.
There is a major hurdle pertaining to Iran Air’s pension fund, which
accounts for a sizable portion of the carrier’s costs. The government is
working to resolve this issue within six months.
Parvaresh said that his company paid 3.85 trillion rials (more than $1
billion) in salaries during the eight years of his management. “Of this
amount 1.15 trillion rials ($304 million) pertained to the retired
“Homa’s problems are manifold,” he said. “Ms. Sharafbafi will need help. I’m
asking everyone to help her.”