More than 50 percent of Iran’s passenger planes are idle due to lack of spare parts, particularly engines, a trade representative told local media on Monday.

In an interview with state-controlled media, Alireza Barkhor, deputy chairman of the Association of Iranian Airlines asked for government assistance to airlines for repairing and procuring spare parts. He said that lack of money and sanctions have prevented essential maintenance and repair work on Iran’s aging fleet.

Barkhor is a former air force captain appointed to civilian government positions, according to common practice by the Islamic Republic.

“Currently, more than 170 planes are grounded for lack of financial resources and restrictions due to sanctions,” Barkhor said and added that if this trend continues, more planes will become non-operational in the near future.

The United States banned the sale of aircraft and parts to Iran in 1995, and because most passenger planes are manufactures by outsourcing parts to hundreds of companies, the sanction practically makes it impossible for most manufacturers to sell parts.

In addition to the ban on aircraft sales, the US also reimposed banking sanctions on Iran in 2018 that would penalize any financial institution or bank for dealing with Iran. Therefore, payments to established aviation companies become out of question.

Iran suffered from shortages of civilian airliners since the 1990s and used a variety of ways to lease older Russian planes or buy spare parts through intermediaries, but the technical state of its fleet was deteriorating, before a brief reprieve.

When the 2015 nuclear agreement, JCPOA, went into effect sanctions on purchases of Western aircraft were lifted and Iran began talks to buy aircraft from Boeing and Airbus. A few airbus planes were delivered but the newly elected Trump administration never approved sale of US planes until Washington withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions.

Earlier this year, Barkhor had said that Iranian airlines are on the verge of bankruptcy, confirming that the government’s flagship Iran Air had $800 million in debt. He had also said that without piecemeal government help these companies would have already gone bankruptcy.

In September, an aide to President Ebrahim Raisi promised assistance to Iran Air but so far nothing has materialized. The government is under tremendous financial pressures and Iran’s currency, rial, has fallen 25 percent since Raisi took office in August.

Everything hinges on Iran’s negotiations with the United States over restoring the JCPOA and lifting sanctions. The Raisi government, however, has toughened Tehran’s posture in the talks and a round of negotiations in Vienna last week ended without success. Diplomats and observers are pessimistic over the talks.

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