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Cracks in Iran sanctions as Mahan receives A340s

Provided negotiations between Iran and the US aren’t wrecked by hardliners on either side, June 30 is pencilled in as the earliest date by which many sanctions could be lifted.

Among the first could be the prohibition on direct aircraft sales, especially since the supply of spare parts has theoretically been allowed for several months now.

But one Iranian carrier – privately owned Mahan Air – has jumped the gun and announced its receipt of seven A340-600s, one A340-300 and an A321, all less than 15 years old.

By Iranian standards such aircraft are cutting edge – Mahan relies on 15 variants of Airbus’ first-ever airliner, the A300, but is still regarded as the safest and most dependable airline in Iran.

Yet Mahan has provoked disquiet in several corners by undermining still-valid sanctions.

It is thought to have done so by buying the aircraft through a complex web of front companies that culminated in Al-Naser Airlines, a tiny Iraqi charter carrier.

Al-Naser denies this.

Critics have also claimed that Mahan could use the aircraft to ferry weapons to the Syrian regime and Shiite rebels in Yemen.

This follows an assertion by the US treasury in 2011 that Mahan was “ferrying operatives, weapons and funds on its flights” for Iran’s Qods security force.

The airline’s management has dismissed such allegations as propaganda.

“[It] is really baseless to say Mahan buys modern planes to carry weapons as if there is shortage of planes in Iran for such purposes,” a board member of Mahan’s parent told The Financial Times.

Whether or not Iran runs its own version of Air America, a country that has suffered more than 700 air passenger deaths in 10 years obviously has a more pressing need for safe, reliable equipment.

One questions Mahan’s timing, though, and not just because its purchases have been announced at a delicate time for international talks: If the deadlock is broken and sanctions are soon lifted, wouldn’t the airline prefer to shop for aircraft a little fancier than the gas-guzzling A340?

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