(NSI News Source Info) TEHRAN, Iran - March 7, 2010: In reaction to several accidents involving Russian-built passenger planes in Iran, the Islamic Republic sets a two-month deadline for Russian pilots to leave the country.
"Upon an order from President [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad], the Road and Transport Ministry has set a two-month deadline, after which all Russian pilots must leave the country," Fars News Agency quoted Minister of Roads and Transportation Hamid Behbahani as saying on Saturday. "When our country itself has plenty of competent and skilled pilots, there is no need for hiring pilots from abroad to operate our flights," he added.
Iran has suffered a string of aviation disasters over the past decade, most involving private airlines using Russian-made planes and crew. Officials have blamed the incidents on a ban on the sale of airplane parts to Iran, forcing it to purchase the parts from Russia and other former Soviet states.
In the worst plane crash in Iran, a Tupolev-154M, crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran en route to the Armenian capital of Yerevan on July 15, 2009, leaving all 168 passengers onboard dead.
Russia, which has significant trade ties with Iran, is among six world powers trying to find a diplomatic solution to the long-running dispute over Tehran's nuclear program. Moscow has indicated it could support new sanctions against Iran provided they are not too severe. Iran denies Western accusations that its nuclear work is aimed at developing bombs. Iranian officials have voiced growing frustration at Russia's failure to supply the advanced S-300 missile defense system, which Israel and the United States do not want Tehran to have. Russia last month said it would not sell weapons if it leads to destabilization in any region.