March 26, 2007 / 3:05 PM / in 11 years

British-made aircraft sold to Iran, first since '79

LONDON (Reuters) - A British company has sold the first new Western-made aircraft to Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, an adviser to the deal said on Monday.

The 10-seater Britten Norman Islander aircraft was delivered to Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization last week, said Dean Ghobadi commercial director of PAAviation, which represents Britten Norman in Iran.

U.S. sanctions against Iran have made it virtually impossible for Western manufacturers to supply new aircraft or spare parts to Iran which turned to Russia and former Soviet Union countries to renew its aging fleet.

Aviation experts say the U.S. restrictions have contributed to Iran’s poor air safety record.

As part of efforts to encourage Tehran to halt its nuclear program, Washington agreed in 2005 to allow European companies on a case-by-case basis to sell Iran new aircraft and spare parts containing U.S. components.

In addition to the $2 million Britten Norman aircraft, Iran also ordered $2 million in spare parts for at least 10 others, currently grounded, which it bought before the revolution.

“This hasn’t happened since 1979,” said Ghobadi. “The Iranians are delighted and have expressed interest in a further five aircraft”.

He said the multi-purpose aircraft could be used for civilian skydiving training, as an air ambulance, as a regional commuter plane, for transporting VIPs or for coastal patrols.

The sale, approved by the British government, comes at a time of heightened tensions between London and Tehran following Iran’s capture of 15 British Navy sailors and marines in the Gulf last week.

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