"Mahan Air will have to halt its Paris flights as of April 1. They notified me in an email," tweeted an Iranian passenger who had booked a flight to the French capital. Airline officials have confirmed the cancellations, saying French government sanctions forced the ban. Mahan is Iran's second-largest carrier with its Paris schedule covering four flights on a weekly basis.
The airline has already suffered similar bans, including one imposed by Germany in January. German officials cited security reasons amid allegations about Iran's involvement in assassination plots on European soil, an accusation Tehran has vehemently denied. Earlier in March, Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi expressed his country's dissatisfaction with the decision, stressing "the necessity for a reconsideration." But the ban still remains in place.
After Iran and major world powers inked the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2015, hopes were reinvigorated that the lifting of sanctions will herald better days for Iran's crumbling aviation industry affected by decades-long punitive measures. As the accord began to be implemented, Iran restlessly pushed to cover the lagging sector, signing multibillion-dollar purchase deals with Boeing, Airbus and ATR. But reinstated sanctions following the US departure from the pact in May 2018 promoted cancellations. No Boeing aircraft was delivered while Airbus and ATR offered only three and 13 planes, respectively.
The reinstated sanctions have also brought about peculiar situations. Earlier this year, a Norwegian Air Shuttle had to make an emergency landing at an airport in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz en route from Dubai to Oslo. But not everything went as smoothly as expected. The plane remained stranded for nearly 70 days because delivering a replacement engine to Iran would have been a violation of US sanctions that prohibited any export of plane parts to the country. Iranian authorities and social media users cited the case as a clear example of how US sanctions could well go beyond the scope of ordinary Iranian citizens.
Western sanctions limiting business with Iran have also scared several leading international airlines away from Iran, among them British Airways, Air France and the Netherlands' KLM.
What has further mounted pressure on the Iranian aviation industry are the refueling restrictions. Many European airports are now refusing to provide fuel to Iranian airlines. As an example, a regular flight between Tehran and Hamburg operated by Iran's Qeshm Air is denied fuel in the destination. It has to land in Belgrade middle way and stretch the flight time for two hours to get its tank filled in the Serbian capital.
The refueling issue also sparked controversy last year after a flight set to carry Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif from Munich to Moscow had to be stranded for several hours before the fuel delivery was worked out.
Sanctions have also tremendously affected Iran's ability to overhaul its aging fleet. Reports of a variety of flight-related problems over technical failures have become regular news in Iran. In January, a military cargo plane's emergency landing outside the capital city of Tehran killed 15 people out of 16 onboard.
The latest lucky escape involved passengers bound to Tehran from the southern resort Island of Kish on March 19. The captain of the Fokker 100 flight, belonging to the country's leading airline, Iran Air, made an emergency landing on the plane's body at Mehrabad Airport after a hydraulic fault locked the tires. Amateur videos showed safe but panicked passengers leaving the aircraft surrounded by emergency workers and firefighters. Media praised the "skilled" pilot for the successful landing. It was not the first time passengers' lives were saved by a skilled pilot. In 2011, Houshang Shahbazi handled a failed wheel carriage, using the landing gear under the plane's wings to miraculously take passengers to safety.
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