Boeing Co said on Friday it had received a licence from the United States to hold talks with airlines in Iran about buying jetliners but it would need additional U.S. approval to make sales.
"We have applied for and received a licence to assess the current commercial passenger airplane needs of U.S. Government-approved Iranian airlines," Boeing said in a statement. "The licence permits us to engage approved airlines to determine their actual fleet requirements."
The company said it received the licence on Thursday, nearly a month after European rival Airbus said Iran had agreed to buy 118 Airbus jets worth $27 billion at list prices, including a dozen A380 superjumbos. The sales were made possible by the lifting of sanctions on Iran last month.
The number and age of Airbus and Boeing aircraft in Iran show the potential for sales to upgrade those fleets.
Iran's fleet of 94 Boeing and McDonnell Douglas aircraft is nearly equal to the 96 Airbus planes in the country. Counting the Airbus order last month, Airbus' tally now totals 214 planes, according to Flightglobal's Ascend Fleets database.
Many of the Boeing planes date from the 1970s and 1980s. Iran has none of Boeing's flagship wide-body model, the 777, raising the possibility of significant sales, analysts said. Iran continues to fly much older Boeing planes, including 11 747s that date from 1969 to 1988, according to Flightglobal.
"Our European competitor, Airbus, is advancing its interests in the market, and Canada recently indicated that it will permit Bombardier access to the Iranian market as well," Boeing said in its statement.
Boeing faces numerous obstacles in making sales to Iran, including finding financial institutions that will handle the transactions, and the need to ensure that the buyers are not linked to arms dealers or other entities that remain off limits.
"We understand that the situation in the region is complicated and ever changing and we will continue to follow the U.S. government’s guidance as it relates to conducting business with Iran," the company statement said.
Boeing shares were down 2.4 percent at $114.80 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
(Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Andrew Hay and Tom Brown)
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