TEHRAN Iran will ban flights by all its Tupolev aircraft from February following a series of disasters involving Russian-built jets in the Islamic state, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported on Saturday.
Iranian airlines have been dogged by accidents in recent years, prompting calls for a revamp of the country's aging air fleet which also includes many U.S.-built Boeings acquired before the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Reza Nakhjavani, head of the Civil Aviation Organization, ordered four Iranian airlines to stop flying Tupolev-154s from February 20 due to past crashes and the expiry of airworthiness documents.
"Using Tupolev-154 planes is forbidden because of the recent air incidents and the expiry of the service date of this type of aircraft on February 19," Nakhjavani said in a letter.
Altogether 17 Tupolev-154s, owned by Iran Air Tour, Kish Air Eram and Taban airlines, are currently in service in Iran.
U.S. sanctions bar the sale of Boeing airliners to Iran and hinder the acquisition of other aircraft, many of which rely on U.S.-built engines or other components. Iran has turned to Russia and Ukraine for cheaper planes.
The last major air accident in Iran involving a Tupolev was in July 2009 when a Caspian Airlines aircraft bound for Armenia caught fire in mid-air and crashed into farmland near the city of Qazvin, killing all 168 people on board.
Iranian legislators have repeatedly called for tighter aircraft safety controls and an end to the use of planes from the countries of the former Soviet Union.
One of the country's worst air accidents happened in 2003 when an Iranian Ilyushin-76 troop carrier crashed, killing all 276 Revolutionary Guard soldiers and crew aboard.
In 2002, a Russian-built Yakovlev Yak-40 plane carrying 30 people, including the transport minister and seven MPs, crashed near the northern town of Sari killing all on board.
At least 77 people died on January 9 when an aging Iran Air Boeing 727 crashed while attempting to land in bad weather.
(Writing by Mitra Amiri, Editing by David Stamp)