Should Boeing and Airbus Sell Planes to Iran Air?

Should Boeing and Airbus Sell Planes to Iran Air?
Iranian Defense Ministry via AP

Iran Air and Mahan Air still ferrying militants and weapons to support Syria’s Bashar Assad. At least 242 flights from Iran to Syria since the JCPOA commenced

X
Story Stream
recent articles

Earlier this year, Boeing and Iran Air announced a deal for the sale of 100 Boeing planes to the Iranian airline. In addition, Airbus had inked a deal for an additional 118 planes. On November 22, Airbus reported that it had received U.S. government backing for the export of these planes. The export license was granted by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, and allows Airbus to deliver more than $20 billion worth of jets to Iran Air. This follows initial licenses in September by the U.S. government to Boeing and Airbus to deliver jetliners to Iran Air.

Iran Air was designated by the U.S. Treasury Department on June 23, 2011 for “providing material support and services to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL).” MODAFL is designated under Executive Order 13382 for its proliferation activities.” Treasury stated that “commercial Iran Air flights have been used to transport missile or rocket components to Syria.”

Treasury stated that “Iran Air has shipped military-related equipment on behalf of the IRGC since 2006 … Iran Air shipped aircraft-related raw materials to a MODAFL-associated company, including titanium sheets, which have dual-use military applications and can be used in support of advanced weapons programs.” It also stated that “rockets or missiles have been transported via Iran Air passenger aircraft, and IRGC officers occasionally take control over Iran Air flights carrying special IRGC-related cargo. The IRGC is also known to disguise and manifest such shipments as medicine and generic spare parts, and IRGC officers have discouraged Iran Air pilots from inspecting potentially dangerous IRGC-related cargo being carried aboard a commercial Iran Air aircraft, including to Syria.”

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ senior fellow Emanuele Ottolenghi has tracked flights between Iran and Syria’s resupply route and has written extensively about the problem of selling additional planes to Iran.

As the chart below shows, Iran Air has not ceased its illicit activities. It continues to fly the supply route, ferrying weapons and militants to the Syrian regime, which has killed almost 500,000 civilians in the last five years. Syria is a designated State Sponsor of Terrorism. 

Since the implementation of the JCPOA deal on January 16th 2016, there have been at least 78 Mahan Air flights from Iran to Syria, and 56 Iran Air flights from Iran to Syria.

Yet, Iran Air was removed from the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list on January 16, 2016 as part of the nuclear deal with Iran. As the evidence shows, Iran Air’s de-listing was not a consequence of a change in its behavior. Iran Air was designated in 2011 under a non-proliferation Executive Order (13382). It ought to be designated for its continued terrorism activities. State Department spokesman John Kirby said: “I'm not at liberty to go into the reasons behind the fact that it was removed from the SDN list.” 

Mahan Air, which remains designated by the Treasury for “providing financial, material and technological support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force,” continues to ferry supplies and recruits to Syria as well.

Over the past eight months, Cham Wings Airlines, a Syrian based airline, has been steadily increasing their flights from Tehran to Damascus. In 2015, the U.S. Treasury Department designated Cham Wings’ chairman Issam Shammout and his other airline Sky Blue Bird Aviation, for procuring aircrafts and parts for Iran’s Mahan Air. Cham Wings Airlines has been listed on the Commerce Department’s Entity List since 2011.

Iran Air has a fleet of about 36 planes, though it is not clear whether it will decommission these aircraft. The airline could for example use its old planes for illicit activities while the new ones will be used for commercial routes. This raises questions about what Iran Air will do with its current fleet, and with no clear need for three times the number in its current fleet, what it will do with the incoming planes if the Boeing and Airbus deals move forward. Will Iran Air sell, lease, or otherwise provide the excess planes to the other Iranian airlines? Like Mahan Air, the two other Iranian airlines (Yas Air a.k.a. Pouya Air and Aban Air) remain designated for illicit activity by the U.S. government.

Beyond the new aircraft, there are other troubling issue with these deals. Annex 2 of the JCPOA specifies that “the United States commits to allow for the sale of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services to Iran… provided that licensed items and services are used exclusively for commercial passenger aviation.” This component will provide support not only for the planes in the deal, but also for Iran’s current aircraft as well. If Iran is committed to continuing to use its old planes for illicit activities, this provision within the deal will prolong their shelf life considerably. 

The Treasury Department, on August 2014, designated Pouya Air on the grounds of “acting for or on behalf of the IRGC-QF”. Specifically, they were found to be “transporting illicit cargo, including weapons, to Iran’s clients in the Levant”. As Ottolenghi notes, Pouya Air remains designated in July 2016.

Based on Ottolenghi’s tracking of flights using a publically available real-time tracking service, the chart below records at least 122 flights from Iran to Syria by Iran Air, Mahan Air, Pouya Air, Cham Wings and Iranian Air Force from July 14, 2015 – when the JCPOA commenced – and July 10, 2016. This does not reflect all flights because Iran Air uses deceptive practices, such as turning off its tracking signals and concealing its actual routes. Other flights were simply not tracked. 

Summary of data:

  • There were a minimum of 242 Iran Air, Mahan Air, Pouya Air and Iranian Air Force flights from Iran to Syria since the Iran nuclear deal agreement on July 14, 2015. At least 61 of these – or 25 percent – were Iran Air flights.
  • Since January 16 2016, the JCPOA Implementation Day, there have been 78 Mahan Air flights from Iran to Syria, and 56 Iran Air flights from Iran to Syria.
  • There were at least 156 flights from Tehran to Damascus and 9 from Tehran to Latakia or other places in Syria. Latakia houses a Russian air base.
  • There were 62 flights from Abadan, Iran, which serves as a logistical hub for the Revolutionary Guard’s airlifts to Syria.
  • There were 2 flights from Yazd to Damascus/Syria, one from Tabriz to Damascus, and one from Kermanshah to Damascus.

Airline (flight number)

Flight registration

Departure

Destination

Date

Cham Wings Airlines (6Q562)

YK-BAA

Tehran

Damascus

    15-Nov-16

Cham Wings Airlines (6Q562)

YK-BAB

Tehran

Damascus

    13-Nov-16

Iran Air (IR697)

 

Tehran

Damascus

    11-Nov-16

Iran Air (IR697)

 

Tehran

Damascus

    10-Nov-16

Iran Air (IR697)

 

Tehran

Damascus

      8-Nov-16

Cham Wings Airlines  (6Q562)

YK-BAA

Tehran

Damascus

      8-Nov-16

Cham Wings Airlines  (6Q562)

YK-BAB

Tehran

Damascus

      6-Nov-16

Mahan Air (W5142)

EP-MNV

Abadan

Damascus

      6-Nov-16

Iran Air (IR697)

 

Tehran

Damascus

      3-Nov-16

Iran Air (IR697)

 

Tehran

Damascus

      1-Nov-16

Cham Wings Airlines  (6Q562)

YK-BAB

Tehran

Damascus

      1-Nov-16

Cham Wings Airlines  (6Q562)

YK-BAB

Tehran

Damascus

     30-Oct-16

Iran Air (IR697)

EP-IBD

Tehran

Damascus

     27-Oct-16

Cham Wings Airlines  (6Q562)

YK-BAB

Tehran

Damascus

     25-Oct-16

Cham Wings Airlines  (6Q562)

YK-BAB

Tehran

Damascus

     23-Oct-16

Iran Air (IR697)

EP-IBB

Tehran

Damascus

     20-Oct-16

Iran Air (IR697)

EP-IBD

Tehran

Damascus

     18-Oct-16

Cham Wings Airlines  (6Q562)

YK-BAB

Tehran

Damascus

     18-Oct-16

Mahan Air (W5142)

EP-MNV

Tehran

Damascus

     18-Oct-16

Cham Wings Airlines  (6Q562)

YK-BAB

Tehran

Damascus

     16-Oct-16

Iran Air (IR697)

 

Tehran

Damascus

     13-Oct-16

Iran Air (IR697)

EP-IBD

Tehran

Damascus

     11-Oct-16

Cham Wings Airlines  (6Q562)

YK-BAB

Tehran

Damascus

     11-Oct-16

Mahan Air (W5142)

EP-MNX

Tehran

Damascus

     11-Oct-16

Cham Wings Airlines  (6Q562)

YK-BAB

Tehran

Damascus

     10-Oct-16

Cham Wings Airlines  (6Q562)

YK-BAB

Tehran

Damascus

       9-Oct-16

Cham Wings Airlines  (6Q562)

YK-BAB

Tehran

Damascus

       9-Oct-16

Mahan Air (W5142)

EP-MNX

Tehran

Damascus

       6-Oct-16

Iran Air (IR697)

EP-IBC

Tehran

Damascus

       6-Oct-16

Cham Wings Airlines  (6Q562)

YK-BAB

Tehran

Damascus

       4-Oct-16

Iran Air (IR697)

EP-IBD

Tehran

Damascus

       4-Oct-16

Cham Wings Airlines  (6Q562)

YK-BAB

Tehran

Damascus

       2-Oct-16

Iran Air (IR697)

EP-IBD

Tehran

Damascus

     29-Sep-16



Comment
Show commentsHide Comments