Iran is famous for managing to keep its fleet of old Boeings, acquired from the pre-revolutionary Air Force and Iran Air, in the air despite the sanctions imposed by the USA. It is certainly a testimony to the skill of the nation's engineers that 707s, 727s, 747s and the like have been continuously flown. The flip side is of course that only recently has new equipment slipped into the country either by back channels or more recently through agreements with Airbus and ATR enabled by the softening of sanctions.
Saha Air Lines was formed in 1990 as a component of the Iranian Air Force and equipped with a trio of Boeing 707s. Although the 707 was even by that time obsolescent and almost unheard of as a passenger aircraft these aircraft were actually relatively youthful.
The Imperial Iranian Air Force of the Shah was a good friend of the USA and ordered 14 Boeing 707s during the early 1970s at a time when 707 production was focusing on military orders and civilian variants were few and far between. The first 6 707s arrived in 1974 as boom tanker/transports with 3 configured for passengers. The next batch of 7 arrived in 1976 and were equipped with the Beech mdel 1080 wingtip mounted refueling stores as well as the aft mounted KC-10 style refueling boom. One aircraft (5-8308) was delivered in a VIP configuration for operation with the government fleet.
Saha seems to have mainly operated relatively irregular passenger services to popular Iranian destinations such as Mashad, Shiraz and Kish Island. They appear to have also utilised some IIAF 747s during the 1990s but by the 2000s the fleet consisted of 4 of the 1976 build 707s (SHE, SHV, SHU and SHK). By 2007 the schedule included only twice weekly (Friday and Sunday) flights to Mashad and daily charters to Kish Island. It seems that often only a single 707 was in active service with the others in maintenance and then swapping over the active airframe.
Below: Aeroclassics didn't modify their 707 mould to show the refueling boom:
Nonetheless Saha's remaining 707s had by this time gained some fame as the last operating passenger 707s in the world and there are several colourful posts about enthusiasts successful attempts to get to Iran and sample the classic quad. Here are three great examples - one from 2007 and two from 2013:
Michael Prophet - Saha Airlines: The Legendary 707
Sam Chui - Farewell Saha Air B707, the last active commercial B707 in 2013
N178UA - The Magic of Saha Air B707 – A Story of Iran
It does appear that Saha attempted to acquire younger aircraft as during 2010 a pair of ex-China Southern A300s joined the fleet. Both aircraft were however wet leased to Meraj Airlines in 2011 leaving the 707s as the sole equipment. The end finally came for the 707s on April 9, 2013 when the Civil Aviation Organization of Iran closed down Saha Airlines due to its operation of 'outdated' aircraft. It was unsurprisingly difficult for spares to be found for the 707s and at the same time the price of fuel had increased three times within a week in January, which can't have favoured the old Boeings.
The 707s returned to the Air Force except for SHV which has been preserved as a cabin trainer at Saha's headquarters. The other 707s continue to fly for the Air Force or are in storage. Both EP-SHU and SHK have had new registrations assigned and inflight refuelling equipment reinstalled. They were still active in 2015.
The Iranian airline market is deregulated and therefore a vibrant scene with many airlines operating mainly older equipment such as A300s, A310s and Fokker 100s. In 2015 there were still even a few 727s and 747s but as Iran modernises you can expect the fleet to become boringly homogenous like elsewhere. It is odd to think that sanctions had such an unintended side-effect as to allow rich westerners to fly a 707 in 2013 ut such is life and i'm only sad I never got the chance to fly it myself.
As for Saha Airlines it had to wait 3 years but recently restarted operations with a pair of 737-300s.
EP-SHE. Aviation Safety Network
2013, April. Iranian airline SAHA halts operation due to outdated fleet. Payvand.com
2015, May. Tehran after the 707. AirpotSpotting.com
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: