Iran Air B747-SP86
Balloons to Boeings
About 70 Years of airline industry in Iran
By Hamid Razavi
Photos forwarded by Abbas Atrvash
April 30, 1998
Mr. Abbas Atrvash has written a brief history about the 70 years of air transportation in Iran entitled "The evolution of the Iranian Airline Industry". As readers are asked to send in their views and comments by the same medium, I deemed it necessary to add a few points and reminders of some issues to the said history for I have been associated closely with management of Iran Air in the position of director of the airline's legal and international affairs during the entire period of its growth.
First flight: Balloons in Tehran,
Flights before 1927
First pilots: French-trained
Air Mail flights
Major Khademi: Air Mail pilot
Flights during Soviet occupation
Iranian Airways: frequent accidents
United Iranian Airline
Iran Air: Profits
Boeing or McDonnell Douglas?
First flight: Balloons in Tehran, Tabriz
1) As for the brief history of the 70 years of air transportation in Iran, the writer has begun with the Wright Brothers' flight and ended with the non-stop flight of the Boeing 777 from Seattle in U.S.A. to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, a distance of 20,044 Kilometers. Therefore it is fitting to provide a short account of man's early effort to send up a balloon into the sky in Iran and the first airplane that appeared in Tehran's sky.
It is well known that during the reign of Nasseredin Shah (1848 - 1896 ), a manless balloon went up to the sky in Tehran and another similar balloon went up in Tabriz. This was the first attempt to send an artificial object into the sky in Iran. It is certain that toward the end of 1917 for the first time a Russian airplane was seen over Tehran. As no airplane had been seen before, no landing strip was provided and so the airplane had to land on the army exercise field (Meydan Mashgh) in the center of the city and people came in every day to see the strange bird.
Some time later, two British airplanes flew to Tehran and landed in a farmland near the city, known at the time as Ghaleh Morghi and since then, the said place has been considered for airport facilities. After the Russian revolution and the jungle uprising headed by Mirza Kuchek Khan in Gilan, a Russian airplane had to make a forced landing in that area. This plane was later sent to Tehran.
In 1924 Germany's Junkers company sent its first airplane to Tehran and people lined up, by paying 50 rials (about $3) to see the city from the sky. In the same year, for the first time a Junkers airplane was purchased by the army.
Flights before 1927
2) The author of the brief history, after stating the introduction, has proceeded with history of 70 years of air transportation with a chapter titled "The Early Years". He has expressed the opinion that air transport in Iran started in 1927 with operations by the Junkers company. This is a doubtful because, contrary to Mr. Atrvash's view, transportation of person and goods by air existed in Iran for years before 1927. It is proper to point to some air services activities that took place in Iran prior to 1927 and to start the mentioned date with a description of air operations that were carried out before that date to meet some public needs.
First pilots: French-trained
3) Years before Junkers flew in Iranian air space, the government had purchased several Russian airplanes and short time after, a few French airplanes were purchased and officers from Iran were sent to France and Russia to learn how to fly. The group sent to France returned earlier and they were the first Iranian pilots who were trained abroad.
Although the purchased airplanes were delivered to the army for maintenance and flight operation, records indicate they were used to send government officials on their missions, to perform air services, transport postal packages and other needed public missions such as medical relief to areas including Rafsanjan and west border towns stricken with cholera. Health authorities used the air services to transport doctors, nurses, drugs and vaccines and other required items which they used to eradicate cholera from both areas. As the cost of such services were surely paid by Health Department and by government budget, these operations and related air services are worthy of mention in the history of air transportation of the country.
Air Mail flights
4) In the brief history, it is stated that the pages of Iran's air transport history has remained blank from the time Junkers services were discontinued until 1945 when the ex-Iranian Airways company was created. In my opinion, it is not so because:
a) Years before the formation of Iranian Airways and even prior to the Second World War, the Department of Air Mail existed in the Ministry of Post, Telegram and Telephone which not only carried air mail; but carried, occasionally, air cargo and passengers with airplanes it had at his disposal to the points within the country and as far as Baghdad.
b) The Ministry of P.T.T. after September 1941 (the year Reza Shah abdicated) took delivery of three aircraft it had purchased. These planes were twin engine and had four passenger seats. If I remember correctly, these aircraft were named Domino and were made in England. The writer of this account made a trip to Shiraz in the winter of 1943 with the first postal passenger flight of these aircraft. I also remember that our plane, that had four passengers with no cargo or mail bags, could not fly over the Karkas mountains near Kashan and it twice flew back fro the skies of the mountain to gain altitude and finally overflew the mountain and landed in Isfahan. This plane flew the next day to Shiraz. Air services with Domino aircraft was continued for a long time by the Air Mail Department for the Ministry of P.T.T. and paid passengers were transported from Tehran to Isfahan, Shiraz, Bushehr, Kermanshah and Baghdad.
It is worthy to mention that a young pilot by the name of Major Khademi joined the group of pilots in the mail and passenger air services and, as a result he thought of going to England where he completed a flying course as a pilot and obtained a commercial pilot license (C.P.L.). This was the first pilot's license in commercial air transport that was obtained by an Iranian. This commercial pilot license formed the basis of this pilot's efforts until years later, he assumed the administration of Iran Air.
Regarding air services before the establishment of the former Iranian Airways, sporadic accounts were printed in the newspapers at the time but referring to those is rather difficult. I therefore think it easier access to refer to the report of the British ambassador to Iran, Sir Reader Bullard to then British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden. The report is dated May 22, 1945 and is published in London by the Public Records Office under number 45448-0/946. Also referral is in order of the same ambassador's report to Ernest Bevin, the succeeding Foreign Minister. This is dated November 7, 1945, published in London under number 45452 by the P.R.O. Sir Reader Bullard has elaborated the modes of air transport services and has made mention of the department organized in P.T.T. Ministry of Iran and has termed it "State Air Company". He has later referred to the inclination of the Ebtehaj, Director of the Iran Tour Companym, to establish a private airline company.
The private airline company had hardly been established by Ebtehaj, that the Soviet government formally requested the Ghavam Saltaneh government for permission to establish an air agency in Iran. The matter was taken up by the cabinet meeting and refused.
Flights during Soviet occupation
5) Parallel with the mail and passenger air services that were carried out by the Department of Air Mail, other air services with the larger twin engine Russian airplanes were arranged in the northern part of Iran by the wish of the Soviet occupying forces in Iranian Azarbaijan. Cargo and passengers were hauled from Tehran to Tabriz, Mashad and Anzali and fares were collected by Intourist, the only Soviet hotel and tourist agency at that time.
It is worth mentioning that air services by Russian airplanes continued months after evacuation of Soviet troops from Iranian Azarbaijan. The mission sent by the Ghavam Saltaneh government to Tabriz to negotiate with Pishevari, leader of the rebel group loyal to Moscow, was made by Russian airplanes and I, who at the time was director of the state news agency, flew to Tabriz on board this flight in the company of deputy to the Prime Minister Ghavam and other government delegates.
Iranian Airways: frequent accidents
6) Mr. Atrvash, in his brief history, has tried to link the advancement and progress of Iran National Airline "Homa" to the activities of the former Iranian Airways, headed by Reza Afshar. In other words, to regard the former airways as infrastructure of "Homa" (Iran Air) whereas these two airlines were in no way connected together and are not comparable with each other. The respected author has indicated the government's decision to nationalize the commercial air transport but has not made any reference to the reasons and causes of this decision and the mode of nationalization. Whereas, in my opinion, inclusion of data regarding these points in the history of commercial air transport is absolutely necessary:
7) The former Iranian Airways, referred to in this writing as the "Ex-Iranian Airways" was established, despite opposition from its rivals, by Ebtehaj, who was four times mayor of Tehran and director of Iran Tours, the only hotel and tour organization of Iran, together with Issaof, Reza Afshar and several other persons. After a while the late Reza Afshar became holder of the majority of shares and became the managing director of this company. He managed the airways as his personal property and was not answerable to any person or authority. Finally, the circumstances of this airline company reached a point that because of repeated accidents, it lost passenger confidence; its income dwindled so much that in order to pay salaries and current expenses, each year its director of finance borrowed money from the market and repaid it with interest after the Haj operation, which brought in considerable revenues to the company.
8) I have to mention the repeated crashes of the airplanes operated by this airline resulting in 43 deaths of crew and passengers. It is best that I quote from "Destination Disaster", written by three Sunday Times reporters in London. In the chapter on flight safety of various airlines, three crash accidents are reported which unfortunately, the reporter failing to make necessary distinction between Iran Air and the Ex-Iranian Airways, have ascribed these accidents to Iran Air and yet have declared Iran Air as having good safety record. Had they clarified that the accidents concerned Ex-Iranian Airways and had nothing to do with Iran Air, Iran Air would then be declared as having the highest flight safety record.
Before giving an account regarding flight safety record in various airlines, the authors of the said book have printed the lengthy and detailed report of the British Civil Aviation in which the entire commercial air accidents of the world (Excluding Air Taxi, cargo aircraft and charter aircraft accidents) for the year 1950-1975. Below is given a partial list of those accidents:
A) DC-3 aircraft belonging to Ex-Iranian Airways crashed at taking off from Tehran airport on September 14, 1950 killing 8 people.
B) DC-3 aircraft belonging to Ex-Iranian Airways crashed near Ghom, killing 8 persons.
C) The third accident also involving DC-3 aircraft belonging to Ex-Iranian Airways Co. crashed on landing at Tehran airport killing 27 persons. Consequently, a total of 43 person were killed in the accidents of three DC-3 aircraft, belonging to Ex-Iranian Airways Co.
As a result of the above accidents the Ex-Iranian Airways lost the confidence of passengers. I personally saw a notice in Iran Tour Hotel in Isfahan by foreign consulates and Point Four Agency advising their citizens not to fly within Iran.
9) It may be asked that if Ex-Iranian Airways had not enough assets and aircraft, why did not authorities dissolve and liquidate it? The answer I that the said airline did not own sufficient assets with which to undertake safe flight operation. If it were left to itself it would be legally stopped and air services necessary in a vast country like Iran would be curtailed. On the other hand, this airline was declared as designated airline by the government of Iran in a bi-lateral air agreement with other countries and the said airline had to satisfy the acquired rights of our country on the basis of agreements and flight permits. Moreover, several years before the establishment of Iran Air, Ex-Iranian Airways had became a member of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and had paid membership dues and fees and dissolution of the airline would entailed loss of membership standing and payments made for it. Therefore, in the law establishing Iran Air an article was included clearly specifying that the Ex-Iranian Airways with all its organization, credits, privileges and acquired domestic and international rights should be attached by Iran Air and Iran Air substitutes for it in all respects. Following approval of this law Iran Air attached the said airline and liquidated all its affairs thus merging the Ex-Iranian Airways with itself, transfer ex-airline personnel to Iran Air, promoting them and including them in Iran Air's special rules and regulations.
United Iranian Airline
10) In view of public need for air transportation, the government established, by law, the United Iranian Airline and put up its own three Vickers Viscount airplanes as capital in this company and it was decreed that Iranian Airways and Pars Air, an air company belonging to Ahmad Shafigh be integrated in the United airline. But the late Reza Afshar did not submit to this ruling and succeeded in obtaining the concession and the rights of Pars Air in utilizing of said airplanes by official documents from Ahmad Shafigh and leased them. These airplanes had been used so much that years later when Iran Air (Homa) sold the two Viscount airplanes to a person who declared himself to be Air Malawi representative but had British Citizenship, more than one hundred hours had elapsed from the life of these airplanes.
The late Zolnasr, financial director and I were assigned to take the planes to Africa and deliver them to the buyer at the Nampula airport in Mozambique and collect the cheque. There was a worry that the buyer would change his mind at the last moment due to elapsing hours of the airplane. Finally, delivery was made and the cheque was used to advance payment for the purchase of Boeing aircraft, the reminder of the prices of Boeing airplanes was secured by loan from the U.S. Export-Import Bank. It is worth mentioning that the installments of that loan were paid from the revenue earned in flight operation of these aircraft. In other words, Iran Air was able to purchase jet aircraft from its own earnings.
11) The resolution to establish Iran Air (Homa) was adopted by parliament. It says, in part that the government established Iran Air (Homa) with 170 million rials, and the price of 3 Viscount aircraft was included in the investment. And 50 million rials cash was also included in the capital for investment but this amount was not paid in one installment because of the poor financial condition of the government at the time. It follows then that all Iran Air purchases were from its own earnings. The day Nassrolah Amir Fazli was appointed managing director of the company, its cash capital amounted to 1.5 billion rials, a capital secured exclusively from the company's annual net profits.
12) It is stated in the brief history that after the purchase of the jet aircraft, an agreement to secure technical assistance was signed with Pan American airlines and a number of foreign advisors and technicians entered the service of the airline. It is necessary to mention that said agreement had been concluded long before the purchase of the jet aircraft from Boeing and the said advisors were employed when Iran Air was operating the DC-6 and the Viscount airplanes. Some times later, these advisors left the services and returned to their homes.
13) Another worthy issue to which the author of the brief history has also referred is that the company's management was wise in selecting only one type of jet aircraft. Had they taken both McDonnell Douglas and the Boeing they would face difficulties. As far as I was involved, the management of Iran Air was pressured by two sides; the manufacturer of the British jet, Trident who had succeeded to sell the aircraft to Iraq, Kuwait and other countries of the region and by Boeing company that had proposed the sale of Boeing 727 Tri-engined aircraft. It was deemed expedient to have a Swedish engineering consultant, experts in manufacturing aircraft to study and compare technical and operational characteristics of both aircraft and decide which one is best suited to the climate of Iran and from other aspects. To go into details of this issue will prolong this article. As we all know Iran Air became a Boeing-using airline. What Mr. Atrvash has mentioned about DC-10 aircraft goes back to the time when Iran Air had already purchased the Boeing. The Douglas company brought one DC-10 aircraft to Tehran and showed it off. However, as long as I remember, the purchase of the two types of aircraft has never been considered by Iran Air.
14) All that is written in brief history about flight safety of Iran Air and the content of the book "Destination Disaster", is worthy of attention but more worthy than that are the comments and reports by the insurance surveyors and risk analysts who, each year when renewing the insurance policies of Iran Air and on observation of the technical, maintenance condition and safety of this airline granted it reduction in insurance premiums.
There is much to be said in respect of this brief history , yet to avoid prolongation of the discourse I must end it. But it is necessary that I call the attention of Mr. Atrvash to the following remark: Now that after 19 years of silence we write about the success of Iran Air (Homa), it is proper that we write about the personnel and authorities of Iran Air for the past 19 years in general and the flight crew in particular and call to mind their efforts and services during the dangerous conditions of the eight year Iraqi-imposed war, and how they succeeded in keeping aircraft afloat in spite of the difficulties, limitations and boycotts and managed to maintain the flights of this legendary bird of our country while carrying several millions of passengers each year. We ought to express our sincere thanks and appreciation to them.
About the author
Hamid Razavi was for many years Iran Air's deputy managing director/vice president for legal and international affairs before the 1979 revolution. He is currently working as a private attorney and legal advisor in Tehran. He can be contacted at his office: 66 Pars Ave., Tehran 11310, tel: 673658, fax: 645-5644
The above article was forwarded by Abbas Atrvash, the author of "The evolution of the Iranian Airline Industry". The photos were also supplied by Mr. Atrvash.