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Photograph: en.wikipedia.org

The European Union is granting Iran's leading airline more access to its market, the bloc's executive said Thursday, following years of safety concerns about the flag carrier.

"A technical assessment was successfully carried out in May. Based on this, I am happy to announce that we are now also able to allow most aircraft from Iran Air back into European skies," EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said in a statement.

The move comes as relations between Iran and Europe thaw in the wake of a deal that Tehran concluded with world powers last year to curb its nuclear activities. The agreement allowed the once-pariah state to re-emerge on the world stage.

But EU officials have insisted that the decision on Iran Air would be driven solely by safety considerations, not political ones.

The European Commission has been restricting the operations of Iran Air in the EU since 2010, after airport inspections revealed serious safety problems. Only 12 of its 43 aircraft had so far been allowed into European airspace.

After the change announced on Thursday, all of its fleet except for Fokker 100 and Boeing 747 planes will be allowed into Europe. Iran Air operates 21 Fokker 100 and Boeing 747 aircraft, according to its website.

Also on Thursday, the commission cleared the way for all Zambian airlines to operate in European airspace, along with Air Madagascar and the Indonesian airlines Citilink, Lion Air and Batik Air. All had previously been blacklisted.

Overall, 216 airlines are still prohibited from operating in European skies, while a further six carriers have had some of their aircraft banned, according to the commission.

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