Farzaneh Sharafbafi is expected to usher in a new era of changes as the first ever woman to lead an Iranian airline after being appointed CEO of Iran Air last week. The 44-year-old aerospace engineer previously worked as the head of Iran Air’s research department as well as serving on its board of directors.
Sharafbafi, who holds a PhD in aerospace engineering, is a highly-respected engineer who taught courses on the subject at two of the best-known universities in Iran - the Amir Kabir University of Technology and Shahid Sattari University of Aeronautical Engineering. She will be replacing Farhad Parvaresh who will go on to represent Iran at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal, Canada.
Sharafbafi will be overseeing the revitalisation plan for Iran Air’s passenger planes, which was put in motion after the nuclear trade deal with six other countries allowed Iran to begin importing Western aircrafts. The airlines ageing fleet will be overhauled using 80 passenger planes worth $16.6 billion thanks to a deal with Boeing as well as 120 passenger planes from Airbus worth over $20 billion.
The appointment of the first female CEO at an Iranian aviation company comes on the heels of President Hassan Rouhani’s re-election earlier this year. The moderate leader has overseen a shift in women’s roles within his government and has appointed several women to managerial positions. This has signalled an advancement in the country’s views on women with many hoping for more opportunities within traditionally male occupations to open up in the near future.
Although Sharafbafi’s promotion is a positive sign for Iranian women, it has also shone a spotlight on the lack of women leaders in the aviation industry around the world. Globally, only 5% of women account for airline company CEOs and in the Middle East, only two other women have held this position. The first female chief executive officer of an airline in the region was Rasha Al Roumi, CEO of Kuwait Airways who was appointed in 2013 and the second was Ghaida Abdullatif, CEO of Syrian Arab Airlines.
Sharafbafi’s appointment signals a rare opportunity to increase the representation of women in the aviation industry in the Middle East as well as around the world.