Sept. 18, 2015

The international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program – known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA – along with the anticipated lifting of sanctions on Iran, has some in business aviation inquiring as to how, if at all, flights into, or over the Middle Eastern country might be impacted.

For Europeans, business opportunities may be plentiful. However, other sanctions by the U.S. still preclude Americans from doing business with Iran, although flights there by U.S. aircraft are not completely prohibited.

U.S citizens wanting to travel to Iran need a temporary sojourn license from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Authorized trips may involve humanitarian efforts, agricultural or medical sales, or journalistic activities, but not business meetings, commercial activity, or for recreational reasons.

Overflights through Iranian airspace are also permitted, but the FAA cautions, “The U.S. government does not have diplomatic or consular relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran and therefore cannot provide protection or routine consular services to U.S. citizens in Iran. The Swiss government, acting through its embassy in Tehran, serves as protecting power for U.S. interests in Iran.” The FAA has also issued a NOTAM warning that “Iranian military elements have been known to fire at civil aircraft operating near or adjacent to restricted areas.”

Currently, the number of business aircraft flights into Tehran is modest. Chris Avillanoza, a Jetex Flight Support team leader and operations manager previously based at Jetex’s Dubai, UAE headquarters, said two-to-three flights a month to Tehran is the norm. Jetex uses a local agent in Iran to arrange ground-handling services and liaise with landing and departing aircraft. Arranging landing permits in Iran requires a letter (in Farsi) from a local sponsor, typically the Iranian company that has invited the business visitors. The Civil Aviation Organization (CAO) of the Islamic Republic of Iran will then provide approval for flight operations.

Avillanoza said the landing permit process can be completed in as little as one working day. In cases where the desired airport is congested during the proposed date of operation, Iranian aviation officials may suggest an alternate airport suitable for business aviation.

“The demand for operations is slowly increasing with European operators, and we have found through our own experience that the aviation support infrastructure in Iran is quite good,” said Caterina Taylor, Jetex’s manager of North American business development. “They have ample support equipment, safety, and security facilities in place, and the experience of all I’ve spoken with has been positive in terms of service level and friendliness of people in Iran.”

When traveling to Iran, visitors are advised to bring a satellite phone. Taylor also suggests aircraft carry a tow bar or tow head (as airline service providers will have a tug, but probably not a business aircraft-specific tow-head). Alcohol should be sealed and locked prior to landing in Iran. Female crewmembers and passengers should bring a scarf to cover their hair and maintain a modest appearance.

Business aviation “has been politically unacceptable” in Iran, noted Alan Peaford, managing director of Aerocomm Ltd. and chair of the new Aviation Iran conference to be held in Dubai in March. “However, there is a recognition that, as international commercial opportunities open, there will be an increasing number of business aviation activities.”

“People I have been talking to think there will be purchases of business jets – and even more likely turboprops – but it won’t be immediate,” continued Peaford. “Initially there will be opportunities for FBOs, flight support businesses and infrastructure [providers]. The aviation sector is ripe for regeneration. But there will be challenges.”