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This is How Iran Just Got Hold of a Boeing 737 Plane Despite U.S. Sanctions

This is How Iran Just Got Hold of a Boeing 737 Plane Despite U.S. Sanctions

Iran has recently managed to get hold of a 22-year-old Boeing 737 passenger plane despite U.S. sanctions that include a long-running ban on selling aircraft and spare plane parts to Iranian aviation companies. The way in which the Islamic Republic of Iran got hold of the plane is clever but relatively simple and it could easily be used again in the future to circumvent international export bans.

On February 21, a Boeing 737-300 registered to Fly Armenia Airways – an airline that was only founded in October 2019, currently only has one aircraft in its fleet, and which has never operated a passenger service – went missing and eventually turned up in Tehran.

The two-decade-old aircraft had departed Kyiv bound for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for scheduled maintenance but mysteriously disappeared. When the maintenance company contacted the authorities in Armenia, it was initially feared that the plane had been hijacked.

After some urgent enquiries were made, it turned out that the pilots conveniently had to declare an emergency while flying over Iran due to a mechanical issue forcing them to make an urgent landing in Tehran. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the aircraft landed without further incident.

Once on the ground, however, local Iranian carrier Caspian Airlines decided to acquire the jet. It remains open to debate as to whether the plane ever encountered an emergency or if the landing had been planned far in advance. The latter, however, would suggest a potential breach of U.S. sanctions.

Suspicion has been cast on the nature of the emergency, however, because this isn’t the first time that an Iranian airline has managed to get hold of aircraft in similar circumstances. The Scramble Dutch aviation society reports that in 2015, Mahan Air got hold of several Airbus A340’s which had been flying from Iraq to Kazakhstan for maintenance when they all had to declare an emergency while flying over Iran.

All of the A340’s landed safely in Tehran and soon wound up in Mahan Air’s fleet.

The U.S. has faced criticism for its continued ban on aircraft and parts to Iran over fears that the sanctions threaten aviation safety and force Iranian airlines to operate unsafe planes.

President Biden, however, has dashed any hopes that his administration might ease some sanctions, saying the U.S. wouldn’t lift the ban on aircraft parts until the Iranian administration fulfils its commitments under a 2015 nuclear weapons treaty.

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