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Iran's Aseman Airlines to lease seven Airbus jets: sources

ANKARA/PARIS (Reuters) - Iran's Aseman Airlines has agreed to lease seven Airbus AIR.PA jets, two aviation industry sources said on Thursday, scotching earlier reports that Iran had agreed to buy the aircraft directly from the European manufacturer.

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Labour Minister Ali Rabii was quoted by the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) as saying that Iran, which is negotiating with Airbus through state flag carrier IranAir, had agreed with Airbus to buy seven aircraft.

The report fueled French media speculation that a keenly awaited deal between IranAir and Airbus for more than 100 aircraft had been watered down significantly.

But industry sources said the two deals were not connected and identified regional carrier Aseman Airlines as the company behind the much smaller deal to procure seven aircraft, which Rabii said would start arriving in May.

Those jets will be leased rather than purchased directly from Airbus, the sources said, without identifying the leasing company.

Aseman Airlines could not be reached for comment.

Last week the European Union banned Iran’s Aseman Airlines from operating within the EU because of safety concerns, but the airline said afterwards that it does not fly to the EU.

Owned by Iran’s civil service pension foundation but managed as a private company, Aseman is Iran’s third-largest airline by active fleet size, according to the CAPA consultancy.

Meanwhile, a delegation from Airbus is in Tehran for talks to finalize a deal for about 100 planes.

Iran has been seeking to renew its ageing aircraft fleet since the lifting of international economic sanctions in January under a nuclear deal reached with six major powers.

On Thursday Airbus denied having finalised a deal with IranAir but indirectly confirmed that another carrier had agreed to acquire seven aircraft via a third party.

“Airbus has not finalised any contract so far with IranAir and the agreement for seven airplanes that has been reported is not directly with Airbus,” a spokesman said.

(The story was refiled to fix typographical error in fourth paragraph)

Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Tim Hepher; Editing by David Goodman