Iran’s air safety questioned after multiple flight incidents

Panicked Iranians are nervously debating safety onboard domestic airliners after three airplanes nearly crashed in three consecutive days.

al-monitor This picture taken on Jan. 27, 2020, in Iran's southwestern city of Bandar-e Mahshahr shows a Caspian Airlines McDonnell Douglas MD-83 aircraft that landed on a highway after it overshot the highway during its approach. Photo by MOSTAFA GHOLAMNEZAD/ISNA/AFP via Getty Images.

Jan 28, 2020

Hundreds of Iranian airline passengers experienced extreme panic in a series of back-to-back flight incidents in recent days, fortunately escaping what could have otherwise turned into deadly tragedies.

On Jan. 27, a narrow-body MD-83 operated by Iran’s Caspian Airlines skidded off the runway upon landing in the southwestern port city of Mahshahr. After the tires failed to descend upon landing, the aircraft ended up lying on its belly on a busy highway outside the airport. Videos went viral of the 135 passengers getting off the plane, some from exit doors and others over the wings, after they survived the nail-biting moment. The scene of the “plane right on a city street” was “a surreal and apocalyptic image,” one Iranian tweeted. Iran’s civil aviation organization later announced the damaged plane had been pulled back to the airport to be permanently grounded.

The crash-landing occurred only one day after a “malfunctioning engine” on a Tehran-bound Qeshm Airlines plane from the northeastern city of Gorgan forced the pilot to abort takeoff and evacuate passengers.

Earlier, on Jan. 25, following departure from Imam Khomeini International Airport, an Airbus A300-600 operated by Iran Airtour heading toward the Turkish city of Istanbul had to circle around a certain area west of Tehran several times to consume fuel and reduce weight for an emergency return to the airport. Iran’s aviation organization blamed the incident on “a minor technical fault” without elaborating further. Airport officials have also canceled several domestic flights in recent days, offering no specific explanations and further adding to multiple unanswered questions.

Decades of US sanctions restricting the sale of planes and parts to Iran have effectively worn out the country’s aviation fleet. Having signed the Iran nuclear deal with major world powers in 2015 and the consequent partial removal of those sanctions, Tehran was hoping to overhaul and inject some life into its aging aircraft, with President Hassan Rouhani’s government inking multibillion-dollar contracts with aviation giants Boeing and Airbus. Only a few of the 180 ordered planes joined the Iranian fleet, however, as the two companies halted deliveries due to fears of back-breaking US penalties that were reimposed after President Donald Trump walked out of the Iran deal.

The latest incidents involving Iranian aircraft come only weeks after 176 people died onboard a Ukrainian jetliner that was “mistakenly” downed by two Iranian missiles outside Tehran. The deadly incident has already made several international airlines redirect their paths from Iranian airspace, with some halting their Iran operations or starting to think twice. Maps of air traffic over Iranian skies following the Ukrainian plane crash have been marking a less concentrated circle, an unwelcome picture to the sanction-hit Iranian government for which one of the few ways of earning much-needed foreign currency is charging international aircraft using Iranian airspace.

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