The curious case of the four Airbus A340s sold to Iran via Africa (to circumvent the embargo) –

The curious case of the four Airbus A340s sold to Iran via Africa (to circumvent the embargo) –

Of Leonard Berberi

The aircraft, used by Turkish Airlines, were purchased by a Hong Kong company and parked for over three years in South Africa. Then they were registered in Burkina Faso and sent to Tehran

Four Airbus A340s from a Hong Kong company parked in South Africa for more than three years suddenly took off on Christmas Eve to fly first to Burkina Faso, where they changed their registration, then reached Iran in what it appears to more than one expert a triangulation used to circumvent the sanctions imposed on the country by the international community which prohibit, among other things, the purchase of aircraft or some of its parts made in the West.

From space

The photos taken on January 7, 2023 by the Sentinel-2 satellite and viewed by Courier show that the aircraft are still parked, in a row, at the western end of Tehran’s airport. And the Islamic Republic itself to confirm the purchase. We bought the four “made in France” planes that arrived in the country recently, said Hassan Khoshkhou, spokesman for the Civil Aviation Organization of Iran. Khoshkhou did not explain how they were purchased, who helped the transaction and through what channels.

The nuclear deal

To understand what’s going on, you have to take a step back. In 2015 Iran signed an agreement with the European Union, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (US, China, France, Russia, UK) and Germany on nuclear energy in Iran known as JCPOA . But in 2018, with the arrival of Donald Trump at the White House, the agreement was abandoned by the US which restarted the economic sanctions.

The sanctions

Among the measures there is also a ban on companies selling to the Islamic Republic parts made in the USA, such as the electronic ones found in all Airbus and Boeing models. A significant measure for Iranian civil aviation: its main companies – Iran Air and Mahan Air – have an aging fleet, practically no spare parts for the aircraft in service and an air transport safety level among the lowest in the world . Technically, the Americans grant the possibility of exporting goods, services and technology to ensure civil aviation safety in the country, but the case-by-case assessment discourages this type of initiative. For this reason, Iran is looking for other aircraft around the world.

Civil aviation

The situation is so delicate that the Iranian Airlines Association explained a few weeks ago that more than half of the planes in the country were grounded because they were no longer safe and without spare parts, especially engines. According to them, this has led on the one hand to reduce the number of tickets on sale and on the other to increase the price of flights. An analysis of operations shows that only 120 out of 337 jets in the Islamic Republic take off regularly these days.

On the European blacklist

Last November, the European Union published the new edition of the list of carriers subject to an operating ban in the Union for reasons of safety of operations (and of activities at the airports of the countries of origin). Iranian Aseman Airlines cannot even fly over European skies, while Iran Air is subject to operational restrictions. For example: he cannot use the Fokker F100 and the Boeing 747 and in fact flies, even in Italy, with the Airbus A330.

The purchase

And here the four Airbus A340s enter history. Made between 1996 and 2000, they were last used by Turkish Airlines who decommissioned them between 2018 and 2019. Shortly after they were sent to Johannesburg airport, South Africa. Here their property passed into the hands of the Hong Kong company Avro Global which registered the jets – moreover the only ones – on the island of Guernsey, in the English Channel, considered a tax haven.

The new registration

In South Africa the aircraft remained until last month. When registered with new codes (XT-AKA, XT-AKB, XT-AKK, ​​XT-ALM) by the Civil Aviation Authority of Burkina Faso. With the new plates on December 23rd the jets take off and are intercepted by the @Gerjon Twitter account and become the subject of conversation for enthusiasts. A few hours later they land at Tehran’s Khomeini International Airport. Where do they stay even these days.

The reactions

The Courier contacted Anac, the national civil aviation agency of Burkina Faso, asking them for clarifications but without getting a response at the time of publication of the article. No response even from the company – based in Hong Kong – which is the last owner of the A340 before the sale to Iran. The US Justice Department – which supervises the application of sanctions – prefers not to comment for now.

The price

The four A340s are part of the -300 series of Airbus aircraft and are used for intercontinental connections thanks to the four engines and the maximum capacity of 440 passengers. The model has not been in production for some time and according to the experts consulted today has a market value of up to 3 million dollars. The specimens transferred to Iran, given their condition, should have been purchased for no more than a million dollars each.

January 8, 2023 (change January 8, 2023 | 07:13)

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