Iran Air appoints female CEO, a novelty for airlines

Iran Air appoints female CEO, a novelty for airlines

A few days ago news broke that Iran Air, the state-owned airline of Iran, had appointed Dr. Farzaneh Sharafbafi as Chief Executive Officer. Outgoing CEO Farhad Parvaresh will represent the country at the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal, Canada.

(Image: Tehran Times)

Dr. Sharafbafi has a PhD in aerospace – reportedly the first woman in Iran to obtain that – and has steadily worked her way up the corporate ladder at the airline. She’s currently serving as a board member and director general of the airline’s research department, and teaches classes at the prestigious Amir Kabir University of Technology.

This is a big deal, but not necessarily because she’s a woman in Iran – rather, the upper echelons of the commercial aviation industry is dominated by men. Ben at One Mile At A Time does a great job of breaking this down, complete with statistics. He cites a Skift article from a few years back that found that less than 5% of airline CEOs were women.

Lionesses of Iran

In Iran, women – referred to as the Shirzanaan-e Irani, Lionesses of Iran – are the backbone of society. There are more women in university in Iran than men. They enjoy more freedoms than women in many other regional countries, the most basic examples of which are that they are free to drive and to work without permission from a male relative.

They also serve in government – 8% of Parliament is female (this is a statistic I recall from a few years ago and – if anything – has increased due to Reformist wins in the last two elections), and women have served as vice presidents in the past and present (4 women currently serve as VPs of 12 total).

There are, of course, areas in which the country’s laws do not treat women equally – for instance, inheritance and divorce. The rules on dress are stricter for women as well (their arms and legs and hair must be covered, whereas men just need to cover their legs). If you read about Iran and ignore the media’s bias, though, you’ll learn more about how women push the boundaries everyday. You’ll learn about their courage, about their outspokenness and how it positively impacts Iranian society everyday.

This isn’t just a recent phenomenon, either: historically – I mean seriously historically, going back to the time of Cyrus the Great and Queen Esther – Iranian women have been true lionesses, fighting for their causes without fear and often without reserve.

The future of Iran Air

This is an exciting time for the country’s main airline – it has 80 airplanes on order from Boeing and 112 from Airbus. The carrier will likely bolster their current network and work towards expansion.

Iran Air has a reputation for great food and excellent service, but horrible aircraft. Many of the planes are old – really old, dating back to the 1970s even (i.e. the 747s). It speaks to the brilliance of Iranian engineers who, despite economic sanctions that made parts procurement and support from the airframe manufacturers very difficult, have been keeping those planes in the air for a very long time.

Now would be a good time for Iran Air to consider a serious overhaul of its seats and classes. Geographically, Tehran can serve as a natural connection point to Asia and Southeast Asia – more so than the Gulf hubs, which require another hour and a half flight time south. Iran also boasts a large domestic population who enjoy traveling often, so there will be a healthy amount of domestic as well as connecting traffic.

Tehran has two airports – Mehrabad (THR) in the middle of the city and Imam Khomeini (IKA) an hour south. Depending on the country’s economic growth over the next couple decades, these two could naturally serve in a Haneda/Narita-type strategic arrangement. There is enough business traffic from Europe and the Gulf to warrant flights directly to THR.

Iran Air Airbus A321 (Image: PressTV)

Overall, this is a positive development. Dr. Sharafbafi has the brains and experience to guide the airline through a new and hopefully more prosperous period. Best of luck to her and her team!

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