IRAN: Deceased airline executive's tale shows civil aviation challenges, dangers
Contrary to reports in the Iranian news media and this paper, the son of a well-known Aria Airlines executive who perished in a crash aboard one of his company's planes last summer is alive and well, and hoping to clear up some facts about his late dad.
The executive, Mehdi Dadpay, or Dadpei, was a retired U.S.-trained air force fighter pilot.
After the revolution, he risked his liberty to return home, distinguishing himself as a commander of an Iranian air force unit fighting in the Iran-Iraq war. He later organized humanitarian interventions in disaster areas. All this earned him the "grudging respect" of the political leadership, his son Ali Dadpay says.
It was this reputation, and not any particular political connections he had cultivated, that led him to be asked to run Kish Airlines, a small bankrupt firm and an early privatization experiment in Iran's aviation industry, says Ali, who lives in the U.S. and has his own blog.
"In four years, this airline was one of the most successful in Iran, with a large fleet, several offices, a catering center and a training program," Ali says.
The elder Dadpay succeeded despite the jealousies of his peers, eventually serving as the chief of other airlines.
In 2002, he launched the Arta Kish Flight School, which eventually trained 300 male and female pilots.
Not just anyone gets to start an airline in Iran. Most of those who do are regime acolytes.
But his son says Mehdi Dadpay was a different breed.
By the time he started Aria, he had earned a stellar reputation in the business that let him get ahead without compromising his values, his son says.
"His hard work and independent character did not endear him to any government official or political leader," Ali says. "Officials did not let Aria Airlines operate because it was politically connected; they did so because no one could have argued that Mehdi Dadpay was not qualified."
Mehdi Dadpay's end came as a result of the realities of Iran's aviation industry, which Ali and other critics say is characterized by official mismanagement, crippling sanctions and a lack of resources and decent aircraft.
The "government demands low prices from airlines and imposes severe restrictions on airlines, while they do not have access to either credit lines or Western aircraft," Ali says. "These authorities never pushed for a more realistic policy: an increase in prices, asking for negotiations to lift sanctions or any other solution."
Airlines are forced to use untrustworthy Russian aircraft because they have no choice, given sanctions and government pressure to keep fares low. "None of the last 14 accidents ever motivated anyone to ban the use of Russian aircraft in Iran or to suggest a fare increase," Ali says.
Aviation pros must adapt themselves the best they can, Ali and other observers of the air industry have said.
Even at 69, his father continued to take part in his airline's day-to-day operations, sometimes personally inspecting the aircraft and flying them himself, Ali says.
"Instead of being on an aircraft sharing the fate of his crew and clients, he could have stayed home like other officials and executives," Ali says. "That he could not do. He belonged to his work. He died because he cared."
-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut
Video: The crash of the Aria Airlines flight in Mashhad made headlines around the world last summer. Credit: YouTube
Photos: Above, Mehdi Dadpay. Below, a photograph of Dadpay during his service in the Iranian air force. Credit: The Dadpay family