Tupolev’s Tu-204 airliner, which has drawn only modest orders in the past several years, has begun to make inroads in several new markets, including Iran. Earlier this year Russia and Iran signed a multi-pronged deal that includes the sale of the Tu-204 and Russian assistance in launching Iranian communications satellites.
Iran has been looking for replacements for its fleets of Tu-154s, still in service with several Iranian airline companies. Many of the aircraft have reached the end of their useful service lives and even in oil-rich Iran the airlines find the fuel consumption of the older Tupolevs too costly.
“We have negotiated with Russia to purchase Tupolev-204 jet planes, which consume less petrol even than similar Western types,” said the head of Iran’s civil aviation authority, Hassan Haj Alifard, during a visit to Moscow about one year ago to negotiate the purchase of the aircraft.
Iran remains an important potential market for Russia’s civil aircraft manufacturers. Under U.S. sanctions established after the 1979 Iranian revolution no American aerospace or other advanced technology may be sold to Iran. Even European Airbus aircraft include enough U.S. content–such as engines or other component systems–to fall under the prohibition.
That makes Iran a captive market for former Soviet aircraft makers. Russia’s neighbor, Ukraine, has already established itself in the Iranian market with its Antonov An-140 short-range turboprop for those very reasons.
The Tu-204 going to Iran uses the Russian Perm/Soloviev PS-90-series engine, but outside of Russia and Iran the aircraft owes most of its sales success to the program established at the very end of the Cold War to fit them with Rolls-Royce RB211 engines and Western avionics.
Sirocco Aerospace International Corp., headquartered in Cairo and headed by Ibrahim Kamel, was driving force behind the cooperation with Rolls-Royce.
Currently, Egypt’s Air Cairo flies five of the Tu-204-120 series aircraft equipped with the Rolls engines, and the company intends to procure more–part of the initial order of 25 placed three years ago by Sirocco. Carriers in the People’s Republic of China plan to buy another five cargo versions of the Tu-204-120, and place an option for another 10 aircraft. The Cuban national airline Cubana will receive two passenger models and one cargo version, all equipped with the Russian PS-90 engines.
The national airline of Tajikistan also has shown interest in the Tu-204. Tupolev has signed agreements with foreign suppliers to provide their components for certified use on the aircraft. Tupolev has also held discussions with the Russian simulation and training design firm Transas to develop a modern flight simulator for new foreign customers for the Tu-204.