Domestic Economy

Iran Air: A Woman in Command

The Airbus contract has been concluded. New limitations may be imposed by the US on funders, but this will have no effect on the contract itself
 CEO of Iran Air Farzaneh Sharafbafi at the airline’s Paris headquarters. CEO of Iran Air Farzaneh Sharafbafi at the airline’s Paris headquarters.

The only airline company in Paris’s renowned Avenue des Champs-Elysees has a very curious surprise in reserve.

Behind the miniatures of the remains of Persepolis arises the imposing model of an Airbus A330-200 painted in the livery of Iran Air, the Iranian national airline. 

This brand-new European plane, which toured Iran’s airports after the delivery of its first batch (out of a total of 45) last March, is one of the symbols of the Iran nuclear deal, signed in July 2015, which has resulted in the lifting of some of the international sanctions against Iran. This is while US President Donald Trump plans to impose new sanctions against Tehran as of April.

While in Paris, the CEO of Iran Air agreed to give French magazine Le Point an interview. Farzaneh Sharafbafi, a 44-year-old Iranian, has been at the helm of this public company with 10,000 employees since July 2017. 

Invited to Paris by the French-Iranian Center along with some 30 Iranian business leaders, the aeronautical engineer sought to break the clichés about the Iranian women. Translated excerpts from the interview follow:

  LE POINT: An Iranian woman as a chief executive … Is this not contradictory?

SHARAFBAFI: No, I don’t see any contradiction whatsoever. Why should it be the case?

 Considering the Islamic law in Iran, it seems hardly conceivable that a woman could occupy such a position.

 This is nothing new. It has been more than a decade since I was general manager of Iran Air. Beyond my case, a very large number of women in Iran are in positions of importance. Today, 17% of our managers at Iran Air are women. So we do not feel it’s new or special.

  So you don’t feel like being an exception in Iran?

 I am an exception by nature (laughs). But I do not think that my appointment broke the taboo you describe. Do not forget that we have a large number of deputy ministers and vice presidents in Iran who are women. For example, Ms. Laya Joneydi is vice president for legal affairs.

  What path did you take before becoming a CEO?

 I have a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a PhD in aeronautical and space engineering from Tehran’s Sharif University. I started working for Iran Air in 1994, 23 years ago. Initially, I was an instructor for technicians. Then I became director general for research and development, and then director of Iran Air Training Center. That’s when I joined the board. I was appointed executive director in April 2006, before becoming CEO six months ago on July 15, 2017.

   Can the threats of new American sanctions brandished by Donald Trump have an impact on the payment of the Airbus contract?

 It should be noted that there are specific deadlines for prepaying aircraft purchases. And it is on this basis that Airbus decides to produce the right number of aircraft in its assembly lines. So we have to make sure that we are able to get the funding to make prepayments. Otherwise, this will cause significant losses for both sides of the contract. What we are waiting for today is to find the best way to finance this purchase, with the cooperation of Airbus.

 Can new US sanctions lead to outright cancellation of this contract?

 No, the contract has been concluded [Iran Air signed a firm order for 100 aircraft worth about $20 billion in December 2016]. Three aircraft have already been delivered to Iran: an Airbus A321 and two Airbus A330-200s. Ninety-seven others must follow. Both parties have specific commitments and are eager to fulfill the contract. Nevertheless, it may be that new limitations are imposed, I insist, on funders. But this will have no effect on the contract itself.

  Is it the same with the American aircraft manufacturer Boeing, with which you also signed a big contract [80 aircraft for $16.6 billion]?

 Yes, the conditions are the same as with Airbus. But it is clear that the Americans will make sure there are far fewer impediments in the way of funding the contract with Boeing.

  Back to Iran, do you find that the situation of women has improved under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani?

 Around the world, all societies are moving towards progress. Do French women dress today like 40 years ago? Certainly not. Everyone is looking for progress, beauty and comfort. And the same goes for the new generation of Iranians who, as much as they can, seek to match their fashion to their criteria and standards.

  However, in Iran there is a big difference between women’s outfit at their place of work and on the street.

 I ask you this question in return: Do you dress the same way at home, when you walk in the streets of Paris with your friends or when you do an official interview? It goes without saying that, no! Everyone tries to dress in a manner that is consistent with the conditions of society and the environment in which they live.

  Do you confirm that many Iranian women, highly educated, leave their country for lack of work?

Not finding a job that suits you in a society can also be related to personal issues. It may also be the case that the person does not have the necessary flexibility. Certainly, many may think that with a high level of education, they will be able to go abroad and work exactly in the major they studied. But in fact, this never happens … 

  Staying in our country makes us able to develop it. But when you leave, what can you expect? … What we are looking for is to try to reshape the society so that each person has a level of education corresponding to the needs of the country. 

For example, in Iran Air, we have technicians who get very high level professional training and are paid very good salaries. However, they do not necessarily have university degrees such as bachelors or masters. The same goes for our pilots … In Iran, what is NOT missing is opportunities.

Add new comment

Read our comment policy before posting your viewpoints