The government of Germany has decided to deny Mahan Air, Iran’s second largest airline, landing rights at German airports in January 2019, according to a report published by German newspaper “Bild” on Friday.
This move follows years of political pressure, most notably from the United States, which are stating that Mahan Air is transporting Iranian and Syrian forces and weapons between the two countries and is therefore violating sanctions. The US also believes the security of American nationals at German airports is at risk because of Mahan Air using these airports. However, the move by the German government comes as somewhat of a surprise, as only months ago it didn’t comment on a possible blockade of Mahan Air and instead referred to the Germany-Iranian bilateral air service agreement covering service between the countries.
According to current flight plans, Mahan Air flies from the Iranian capital Tehran to five European airports, namely Barcelona, Dusseldorf, Milan, Munich and Paris. The Dusseldorf route is served three times a week and Munich twice a week. Both German gateways are operated by Airbus A340-300 aircraft, some of which were indirectly acquired from Lufthansa a few years ago.
Mahan Air is the second largest airline in Iran and has a fleet of over 50 aircraft consisting of various types manufactured by Airbus, Boeing and British Aerospace. However, not all aircraft are currently flying, as many are grounded due to technical difficulties caused by a lack of spare parts.
The airline is owned by Hamid Arabnejad, who is also Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Additionally, he is on the United States terror watchlist because of his role in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the special Qods-division specialized in high profile military activities, a possible reason for the moves by the US, trying to block Mahan Air from entering European and German airspace.
Mahan Air has been under special surveillance by the United States at least since 2011, when the airline was first designated as a company supporting terror related acts, organized by the IRGC. It was accused of transporting their personnel to training areas in Iraq and Syria and therefore was the subject of sanctions. In addition to these accusations, the United States believes that Mahan Air is, or was, actively supporting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his role in the still ongoing civil war in the country. Some other Iranian airlines, including Meraj Air and Caspian Air have also been blamed by the US Treasury for Terrorism for supporting the IRGC.
Germany will not, despite this move, join the United States in their renewed sanctions against Iran, nor will it join the United States in proscribing the IRGC or the affiliated Qods forces, which were classified as terrorist organizations by the Trump administration in 2017.
Jakob Wert is an aviation journalist from Germany. He built up the website IFN.news and is the Editor-In-Chief of International Flight Network.