The blacklisted Iranian carrier has been making its way to the top of the United States’ watch list.
Mahan Air, founded in 1992, is the largest private Iranian carrier based out of Tehran, Iran. The airline operates flights to over 60 destinations in Europe, Central Asia, the Far East, and the Middle East, with a fleet primarily made up of Airbus aircraft.
The United States has placed sanctions on the carrier since it has contacts with the Hezbollah Islamist militant group, which is based in Lebanon. In addition, the airline serves as “a government travel agency” for secret agents from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, according to U.S. security experts. The carrier has received more attention from U.S. officials after it was discovered the airline had purchased a British made aircraft with an American engine and is in the process of starting a route to Prague.
Since the aircraft purchased has an American-made engine, it is subject to United States export laws. While it has not yet been decided if the U.S. will penalize the sellers of the aircraft, questions have been raised about these deals being stopped in the future. This is the second time in the last several months that Mahan has purchased aircraft. Clearly the airline has an intent to expand at its Tehran base and is doing so at a pace faster than the United States can keep up with, even with measures implemented by the Commerce and Treasury departments to stop third-parties from selling aircraft to Mahan.
In May of this year, the U.S. Treasury Department took retributive action against Iraqi Al-Naser Airlines and a Syrian businessman, Issam Shammout, for selling a Boeing aircraft to Mahan. American-held assets of Al- Naser airlines and Shammout’s Sky Blue Bird Aviation were frozen and American entities were banned from conducting business with them. The most previous seller of the aircraft to Mahan could face similar penalties, assuming they had knowledge the aircraft’s ultimate sale was to Iran.
The United States is also closely watching the ongoing talks between Mahan Air and the Czech Civil Aviation Authority (UCL) regarding a license for the carrier to operate in the Czech Republic. The United States believes that the flight is a security risk.
Mahan Air plans to operate a Tehran to Prague flight three times weekly, beginning June 1st, 2016. The route would be the first to link Eastern and Central Europe to the capital of Iran. Not only would the flight warm up relations between Iran and Czech diplomacy, it would also add strength to the airline’s current strategy of expanding into the European Union. This year, the airline launched flights to Athens, Milan, Moscow, Munich, St. Petersburg, and Sochi. The airline also plans to fly to Kiev by the end of the year.
The United States fears the new flight could be used to transport military materials, as stated in a letter sent to Prague. However, the license may not be used for actual airline service, but may serve as a negotiations argument to grow relations between Iran and the West.