Four Airbus A340s “disappeared” over Iran, though there’s no need to send rescue teams. I first wrote about this a couple of days ago, though there’s now an update, as Iranian authorities have more or less confirmed what happened.
Airbus A340s fly from South Africa to Iran
On Friday, December 23, 2022, four Airbus A340-300s took off from O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg (JNB). After takeoff, the planes flew along the east coast of Africa, along the Gulf peninsula, and then toward Iran. While the flight plans for these planes indicated that they were headed to Uzbekistan, in reality they disappeared from radar over Iran, and landed at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA).
For context, all four of these planes were former Turkish Airlines Airbus A340-300s, which left the carrier’s fleet in 2018 and 2019. The planes were purchased by a company in Hong Kong named Avro Global, which exclusively owned these four planes. For the past few years, the planes have simply been parked at Johannesburg Airport, and were registered in Guernsey.
There wasn’t much sign of activity until recently, when the planes were re-registered in Burkina Faso with new registration codes — XT-AKA, XT-AKB, XT-AKK and XT-ALM.
Then shortly thereafter these planes started their journeys out of South Africa. For what it’s worth, the A340s were all produced between 1996 and 2000, so they’re 22-26 years old.
This is how Iranian airlines acquire aircraft
The United States has sanctions against Iran, prohibiting companies from selling US-made products to Iran. This obviously presents a major challenge for Iran Air and Mahan Air, Iran’s two largest airlines. They operate outdated fleets, as they can only get planes secondhand.
Even the planes they get secondhand are largely acquired illegitimately, given the restrictions in place that prevent these kinds of transactions. There’s now new satellite footage showing these four planes parked in Tehran.
Furthermore, a spokesperson for Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization has confirmed that four wide body jets have been delivered to Iran in “recent days.” Tt seems highly likely that these jets will be going to Mahan Air, Iran’s largest private airline. Mahan Air already flies several Airbus A340s, most of which used to fly for Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic back in the day.
Interestingly the flights operated with the code “MANXXXX” (with “XXXX” being four numbers). “MAN” isn’t an airline code, but it sorta kinda sounds like it could stand for Mahan Air, no?
While I can’t personally vouch for this, rumor has it that at least two of the Airbus A340s may be headed to Syrian Airlines and Venezelua’s Conviasa, as those airlines are also impacted by sanctions. Conviasa, for example, operates some fascinating routes, including Caracas to Tehran, and Caracas to Moscow.
One certainly has to wonder how exactly all of this goes down, and which parties could potentially be held liable:
- I would assume Turkish Airlines had nothing to do with this in any form, since the airline sold these jets years ago
- Was the company that owned these jets set up specifically to violate sanctions and get these planes to Iran?
- What involvement does Burkina Faso have for registering these planes?
- Who were the pilots who flew these planes from South Africa to Iran? Were these Iranian pilots, and if so, does a dozen Iranian pilots showing up to fly some planes from South Africa to Uzbekistan not raise any red flags?
This sort of seems like a situation where a lot of parties have to turn a blind eye.
Four Airbus A340s took off one after another from South Africa bound for Uzbekistan, and amazingly enough they all “diverted” to Iran. This seems to basically be the standard way that Iranian airlines get around sanctions and take delivery of planes. Iranian officials have now confirmed that four planes have been delivered to the country, so clearly that’s what’s going on here.
Fascinating stuff, eh? What do you make of these “disappearing” A340s?