Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Sanctions on Iran may be targeted, but at whom? And what about those planes?

Not a day goes by without us hearing about some form of new sanctions being imposed on Islamic Republic of Iran by the EU, the UN and the United States. Full details on the US sanctions on Iran can be found on the US Treasury website. These sanctions are designed to be “targeted” at individuals or organizations that support or are in any way related to Iran’s nuclear program or which support terrorist activity. Sounds like a reasonable approach.

The sanctions against Civil Air Travel however, can be best described as primitive and at worst as barbaric and inhumane.

What's been going on?

Chapter 1: We wont sell Iran any planes or parts to keep its airliners flying

So what is the exact nature and impact of the sanctions that have been imposed by the US on Iran as it relates to Civil Aviation?

According to Wikepdia, as long as 2005 “A 2005 report, presented at the 36th session of theInternational Civil Aviation Organization, reported that the U.S. sanctions had endangered the safety of civil aviation in Iran because it prevented Iran from acquiring parts and support essential for aviation safety. It also stated that the sanctions were contrary to article 44 of theChicago convention (to which the US is a member). The ICAO report said aviation safety affects human lives and human rights, stands above political differences, and that the assembly should bring international public pressure on the United States to lift the sanctions against Iran.[16]There is also more recent news of further sanctions against Civil Aviation by some in the US (Brad Sherman) – as referenced in this blog .

The human cost of these sanctions is not difficult to calculate. The numerous air disasters that have plagued Iranian aviation within the last ten years are one testament to this: Caspian flightfrom Armenia in 2009 which killed 168 people, Aria Air crash of 2009 which resulted in 16 fatalities, the 2004 Kish Airlines crash which killed 43, and the list, unfortunately, goes on.

Even if accidents don’t cause deaths, there are also many accidents that all but prove that Iranian Civil Aviation is in dire straits. Within the last 12 months, the following are some of the incidents that have befallen ordinary air travelers:

  • On 26 August 2010, An Iran Air passenger plane (A300-600) en route from Tehran to Stockholm made technical landing at Istanbul's International Ataturk Airport due to an engine trouble.
  • On 15 January 2010, Iran Air Fokker 100 EP-IDA, operating Flight 223 was substantially damaged when the nose gear collapsed after landing at Isfahan International Airport. There were no casualties in this incident.[26]
  • On 18 November 2009, Fokker 100 EP-CFO suffered an undercarriage malfunction on take-off from Isfahan International Airport. The aircraft was on a flight to Mehrabad Airport, Tehranwhen the undercarriage failed to retract. The aircraft landed at Isfahan but was substantially damaged when the left main gear collapsed. There were no casualties in this event.[25]

There could be any number of reasons for this awful safety record which could include old planes, poor maintenance and inappropriate pilot skills (especially with the Russian acquired planes). The Iranian Civil Aviation Authority has been quite clear about the main cause of this, even commissioning a report which all but concludes that US sanctions are the main cause of the deteriorating state of Iran’s civil airline fleets and the resulting accidents and loss of life.

From what we read in the press, Iran has tried on more than one occasion to procure aircraft from Airbus – the European manufacturer. However, it seems that these deals have never materialized and the powers that be have been forced to pick up used planes and parts from disparate sources in the secondary markets. While I may be OK to put an aftermarket brake disks disk on my car, I am not sure I would have any level of confidence of flying in an aircraft that had after market engine parts in it!

So the planes have continued to fly, somehow, and people’s lives, ordinary peoples’ lives, have been put at risk. As the New York times says “Iran Air has had trouble properly maintaining its aging Boeing jets, which were purchased in the 1970s, because of a 30-year-old United States ban on buying spare parts.”

We are told not to blame the US – but why not blame us? Or put another way, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that it’s the US’s refusal to provide spare parts for civilian airliners, our refusal to allow new US-made planes to be sold to Iran, and the our refusal to allow Airbus to provide planes to Iran that is causing the endangerment of ordinary civilians who fly.

Chapter 2 – Iran cannot fly planes to Europe anymore because Europe considers the planes as unsafe

On 6 July 2010, matters took another turn: it was announced that the European Commission would ban all of Iran Air's Airbus A320, Boeing 727 and Boeing 747 fleet from the EU over safety concerns.[10][11] This move will come as a major blow to Iran Air, limiting flights to Europe with their own aircraft, I imagine. This is the New York times article on this.

So given that Iran Air’s fleet largely consists of these now banned aircraft, Iran Air has been left to operate Airbus A300s and A310s on the European routes in order to continue to provide service. Which seems to have continued to take place. Of course this begs the question that if Europe considers the fleet to be unsafe, why does it allow any planes to fly into European air space at all?

Chapter 3 – We won’t provide any fuel to Iran’s civilian planes anymore

To compound this farcical state, within the last few months, a new turn of events promises to add insult to injury. This morning, the BBC reported the alarming news that some providers at Heathrow airport in the UK have been refusing to refuel Iran Air planes. Reading between the lines although the UK government is not putting such a restriction in place, the providers of aviation fuel are refusing to refuel Iranian planes. One can only assume that the rational reason why they would do so is because they have succumbed to some external pressure. So as far as one can tell, and looking at Iran Air’s website seems to confirm, planes are still travelling to the UK but with “unscheduled” refueling in Vienna or Hamburg.

Chapter 4 – What next?

Of course, no one can tell what will happen next. As we all know Iranian Civilian Airliners cannot fly to the US and haven’t done so in more than two decades. However, are we to witness the winding down of flights to Europe and elsewhere now as well? If this is the desired outcome, why don’t the European governments simply ban the planes from flying to their airports and put an end to this?

Even if we end up banning flights to and from Europe, what is to become to the millions of people that travel on airliners within Iran? Are we prepared, are we content, to see them put into needless danger? ……. And all this to punish their Government?

As the bloggers on Peace Action West say: Perhaps, if we intend to further alienate the Iranian people, lend credibility to the anti-western rhetoric of hardliners and extinguish any possibility for constructive engagement we should continue on current path. If not, we better come up with something that is more humane than the current plan.

We had better, since our current approach is not humane or very human for that matter......