Flying coffins

Lives of Iranian airline passengers have rested on a wing and a prayer


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Flying coffins
by Ali Delforoush
11-Aug-2009
 

Last year in August I had the distinct "pleasure" of flying to Tehran on board of an Iran Air Boeing 747. In light of the fact that Iran's air industry has had two plane crashes and two more in-flight emergencies in just the past 3 weeks, it is important for Americans to understand that US sanctions are partly the cause of these disasters--and that they can be prevented.

 

I arranged my trip last year so I could attend my cousin's wedding. As a dual Iranian-Canadian citizen, I am able to travel to Iran with relative ease, and despite common stereotypes, travel to Iran is perfectly safe--that is, except if you are traveling with Iranian airlines.

Needless to say after the trip I swore never to fly with Iran Air again.

This is not because of stale peanuts or bad airplane food. On the contrary, the "chelo kabab" was the only aspect of the flight that I actually enjoyed. Rather, it was because of the horrifying conditions of the three decade old planes that are standard for Iran's air travel industry.

My aircraft was one of the first generation Boeing 747 series that the Shah purchased from the United States before the 1979 revolution. Upon sitting, the first thing I noticed was the ashtrays that were still functional in the armrests of the chairs, even though smoking is not allowed on board. Evidently, these aircrafts have not been upgraded for quite some time.

My seat was positioned just behind the wing, and as a beautiful London sunset was bouncing off the engines I noticed the rust around the rivets holding the wings on to the aircraft. "Great," I thought; "that's what I wanted to see right before takeoff."

As the passengers were boarding the plane a family of three took their seats about five rows from where I was sitting. From what I could see, the son of this family was suffering from Down's syndrome and was in a wheelchair. Unfortunately, this particular Boeing 747 was not wheelchair accessible.

Here the "helpful" flight attendants suggested to the parents that they either take the next flight or "sit at the very front of the aisle and hold on to the wheelchair to keep it from rolling." The parents were irate, and demanded to speak to the pilot, who also told them to take the other flight and kindly leave his aircraft.

After the family exited, the flight finally took off. Only then did the pilot announce over the intercom that, due to the plane's instability, we would be unable to fly at the normal cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. Instead, we would be flying lower and slower, prolonging my mid-air nightmare by another two hours. One of the passengers sitting near me asked the flight attendant the reason for the additional delay. Her answer was less than reassuring: "The airframe and the wings of the aircraft can no longer sustain themselves in high altitudes so we have to fly lower."

My return trip wasn't any better. On the way back to Canada, my flight was delayed for three hours because the aftermarket hydraulic pipe (probably purchased secondhand from the Chinese) of our Iran Air 747 was leaking fluid and had to be repaired.

So can we chalk this up to an inferior "third world" aviation industry that can't afford basic maintenance? Or is it possible that our efforts to squeeze the Iranian government have had the unintended effect of choking off vital parts and services necessary for keeping passenger planes from falling out of the sky?

As an indirect consequence of the US embargo on trade with Iran, Iranian Airlines have been prohibited from updating their 30 year-old American aircrafts. Additionally, U.S. sanctions even make it difficult for Iranian airliners to get European spare parts for their fleet of Airbus planes, hence the sanctions prevent upkeep of these aircrafts as well. This has forced the Iranian civilian aircraft industry to rely on poor Russian substitutes, many of which are from the Soviet era and for which it is difficult to find spare parts.

Two particular aircraft commonly in use in Iran are the Tupolev Tu-154 also known among Iranians as "flying coffins" and the Ilyushins 76, the Soviet-era workhorses for Russian civil air fleets. The Tu-154 was produced by the Soviet Union in the early 1960s until their production was halted due to their poor flight history. After the Soviet collapse, government funding sharply declined for manufacturers of aircraft and spare parts, hence other countries such as Iran who are using their planes have had a harder time obtaining parts and have had to resort to cannibalizing planes from their own fleet.

The difficulty in obtaining spare parts and service has taken its toll on the safety of Iran's civilian fleet. The wear and tear from operating the same planes for decades began to show in 2002 when two Tu-154 planes crashed, killing 128. In 2003, a Russian-made Ilyushins 76 that was carrying elite members of the revolutionary guard crashed and left 302 dead. In 2005 a US-made C-130 which was purchased before the 1979 revolution crashed and caused the deaths of 115 passengers. And finally, in the past three weeks alone, two Tu-154s crashed, a Boeing 707 had two engines catch fire mid-flight, and another passenger plane's landing gear malfunctioned after takeoff. In all, at least 185 passengers have died in the past three weeks alone.

A spokesperson for Boeing indicated to me that the poor safety record of Iranian aircraft is a serious concern for them. "This is really a safety of flight issue," the spokeswoman said. "We care about the safe operation of our fleet of aircrafts worldwide, regardless of the country."

Current law prohibits the export to Iran of aircraft parts without a specific license from the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), though obtaining a license is a daunting task. According to Boeing's spokesperson, the application process often takes place with a "presumption of denial."

There is a popular joke in Iran that says Iranian pilots always say their prayers on the intercom before taking off. For years now, the safety of Iran's civilian planes and the lives of hundreds of their passengers have rested on a wing and a prayer. How many more people will have to die before lawmakers realize that our broad sanctions on Iran -- which have little or no impact on the government's behavior -- are unnecessarily killing innocent people? Can't we figure out a way to put pressure on the government but spare the men, women, and children of Iran just trying to travel from one place to another? I would like to think that we can, but until politicians in Washington take a closer look at the unintended consequences of our Iran policy, it is the people of Iran who will suffer the most.

AUTHOR
Ali Delforoush is an Associate at the National Iranian American Council, NIAC.


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ex programmer craig

hass

by ex programmer craig on

The ICAO isn't here making unsubstantiated claims. You are. The text of the Chicago treaty is avialable online. If you believe sanctions violate it, then show me the sections of the treaty that have been violated. I've been through this with you before. I READ the whole damn treaty trying to find the violations you alleged, and didn't see them. I'm not doing that again. It's up to you to prove your claims, or stop making them.


hass

They're the ICAO's claims

by hass on

They're not my claims, they're the ICAO's.

Go argue with them.


ex programmer craig

hass

by ex programmer craig on

I think I've been through this with you before about your claims that US sanctions violate international treaty. You're wrong. I proved it to you last time, using the treaty text that you keep referencing but never quoting. I'm not going to take that up with you again. You know you are wrong, and you keep beating the dead horse anyway. Why?


ex programmer craig

che kabar e

by ex programmer craig on

From your link:

Boeing 737 crashed in 2008, killing 70 people;
C-130 crashed in 2005, killing 116 people;
Boeing 707 crashed in 2005, killing "several" people;
C-130 crashed in 2003, killing 110 people;
C-130 crashed in 1999, killing 130 people;
Boeing 727 crashed in 1996, killing 4 people;
C-130 crashed in 1996, killing 86 people;
C-130 crashed in 1994, killing 12 people;
C-130 crashed in 1986, killing 98 people;
C-130 crashed in 1981, killing 80 people; and
Boeing 727 crashed in 1980, killing 128 people.

The C-130 is a military aircraft. I hope people aren't suggesting that the US should make it possible for Iran to refurbish military aircraft?

Ali Delforoush, what do sanctions have to do with the corroded rivets you saw on the wings during your flight?

And one last comment... why isn't Iran buying newer planes from Russia? Why are they buying planes that are 1970s era? Are those the only ones teh Russians will sell, or is Iran just being cheap? 

 


capt_ayhab

Hass

by capt_ayhab on

Thanks for all the relevant articles and links. I am in total agreement with you on this subject. US sanction particularly in connection with aviation has been criticized internationally, since it is endangering human lives.

Regards

 

-YT 


hass

Here, read some more FACTS

by hass on

FROM: Airline Business magazine (London) - now Flight Global

Oct 2006. Vol. 22, Iss. 10;

"The USA continues to impose sanctions on Iranian carriers that are detrimental to airline safety and violate the Chicago Convention.

The economic sanctions the USA has imposed against Iran for the last 25-plus years not only block trade but also prevent carriers in Iran from obtaining US-made aircraft as well as engines and parts which are needed to maintain the safety of their fleets. The sanctions are detrimental to aviation safety and are endangering the lives of passengers travelling on Iran Air, other Iranian carriers and foreign airlines which operate to Iran. As a result, these sanctions violate the commitment to airline safety made by the USA, Iran and most nations of the world in 1944 when the Chicago Convention was forged.

The sanctions imposed against Iran, as well as those imposed on Cuba and Sudan, violate the Chicago Convention on two counts. Firstly, these sanctions were and continue to be imposed by the USA for foreign policy reasons. Civil air transport is being used for a purpose inconsistent with the aims of the convention contrary to Article 4.

Secondly, and most importantly, this embargo has undermined safety in international air transport, the principal objective of the convention.


hass

THis is what the ICAO report itself says:

by hass on

US actions listed as detrimental to safety in the report the ICAO commissioned include refusal by US companies to provide spare parts, confiscation of engines sent to other countries for repair, withholding of navigation information, and even threats to stop providing parts to European airlines for their own planes if they did maintenance work for Iran. The report said: "The lack of concern for aviation safety is surprising in intensity and vigor. Since most Iranian aircraft spend most of their time in foreign airspace over foreign built-up areas, common sense and an agreed minimum level of safety must prevail within the concept of economic sanctions".

MORE: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb6506/is_25_63/ai_n29230024/


capt_ayhab

Kaveh

by capt_ayhab on

Of 3 Boeing 747-400 aircrafts one is registered to Merpati Nusantara Airlines of Indonesia, one to MNG Airline of Turkey and the third one to MIT Airline of Canada.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahan_Air

 

-YT 


Kaveh Nouraee

Captain

by Kaveh Nouraee on

The exception that allows the indirect transactions was made in 1996.

Furthermore, if the IR were not allowed to purchase any Boeing or Airbus planes, it's curious that Mahan Air for example operates three Boeing 747-400s, the most recent version of the jumbo jet, while Iran Air, the national carrier, AKA "The Airline of the Islamic Republic of Iran", has nothing newer than a 747-200.

If the IR were truly serious about maintaining the safety and airworthiness of their passenger airline fleet, there are plenty of carriers who have surplus Boeing and Airbus inventory and parts that they would be happy to unload, and would have no problem telling the U.S. to eat dirt at the same time, knowing that the U.S. would be powerless to do a thing about it.

When there is a will, there is a way.


capt_ayhab

Kaveh

by capt_ayhab on

I keep reading the Clinton Executive order of 1995 and no were in there it mentions anything about what you say:

[The IR can purchase Boeing and/or Airbus equipment (aircraft and parts) so long as the planes are at least 6 years old, and not acquired directly from Boeing or Airbus. If the IR were to get even a TEN year old plane it would be a VAST improvement over the current fleet.]

Only foreign aviation company who does business with Iran is Air Bus and  Rolls Royce. The sanctions even prohibits exchange of navigation charts, and even penalizes other air lines such as  Air France, Turkish Air for doing maintenance on Iranian planes. They specifically have denied Boeing freedom in dealing with Iran, same as GE.

-YT 

P/S read the article Hass posted.


Kaveh Nouraee

Hass

by Kaveh Nouraee on

Your data is simply incorrect. You may choose to believe it in order to lend credibility to your argument, however, the fact remains that the IR may purchase both aircraft and spare arts from non-US entities including thhose for Boeing.

It also bears noting that IF the IR truly placed a priority upon the safety of airline passengers, they would have grounded that last remaining dilapidated 707 years ago.


hass

US sanctions violate international law

by hass on

Iran CANNOT purchase or rent airplanes, directly or indirectly. The licensing terms specifically prohibit that. Nor can they provide maintenance and parts. The US sanctions on Iran aircraft part is in violation of the Chicago Convention on Safety of International Navigation of Civil Aircraft. A report  requested and prepared for the ICAO says so:

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb6506/is_25_63/ai_n29230024/

Iran Sanctions' Risk To Air Safety

 

[A] report prepared for the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) warned that American sanctions against Iran were placing civilian lives in danger by denying Iranian aviation necessary spare parts and aircraft repair. . .

Kaveh Nouraee

Captain

by Kaveh Nouraee on

Bill Clinton signed Executive Order #12959 in 2005, banning all U.S. trade with Iran. This bans the direct sale of Boeing equipment, as well as U.S. made components for Airbus aircraft Of which there are many), but allows for their acquisition through a third party. The exception to allow transactions using a 3rd party was made in 1996.

http://www.iraniantrade.org/12959.htm


che khabar e

Coincidently, I just read this in Payvand

by che khabar e on

http://www.payvand.com/news/09/aug/1079.html

I don't think I've seen it here but if it was posted somewhere, sorry for the duplicate.  I think it's the best narrative/discussion about the specific sanctions against aircraft parts.


rosie is roxy is roshan

Here. I'd seen this recently. Investigation of crash in Mashad

by rosie is roxy is roshan on

which killed 153 in July was due to human error.

press tv

http://presstv.com/detail.aspx?id=103026

 


capt_ayhab

Iran airlines

by capt_ayhab on

Sanction or not, Iranian airlines used to have one of the best safety records, both maintenance and security wise.

Admitted that Russian passenger jetliner are some what inferior, but most all these recent crashes are due to faulty maintenance and some even due to crew error. 

Planes that have crashed are rather old hence better maintenance is a must, for which too many corners are being cut in Iran, Specially among the private airlines in Iran.

Kaveh N.

Can you please cite a source for your comment, because I read somewhere that even air planes with certain American made parts are included in sanctions, let alone the whole air plane.  I like to learn bit more about this whole deal.

Thanks bro.

-YT 


rosie is roxy is roshan

Hi, I want to give my input on the sanctions from the other

by rosie is roxy is roshan on

thread, the timarestaan one. Please read it, there's a link within a link.

Thank you.

http://iranian.com/main/comment/reply/76134/204729

_________________________

SORRY LINK NO LONGER WORKS. I HAVE REPOSTED THE LINKED COMMENT ON MY LONG POST TWO POSTS ABOVE THIS ONE ENTITLED 'I JUST WANTED TO MAKE SURE..." 

 


Ostaad

As an ardent opponent of sanctions, I'd like to say...

by Ostaad on

sanctions have nothing to do with the dismal state of maintenance and repairs of the airliners in Iran. The main reason is greed and "maintaining" high profit margins. Iran is able to obtain critical aircraft parts without any problems.

The Iranian airliners that fly international routes must meet international safety standards, and they do, but the aircraft that fly domestic routes do not.  That's why the author's flight was safe as far as I can tell, or he forgot to tell us about the engine number four catching on fire incident that did not happen.

It seems the Iran Air crew handled the wheelchair issue well.  The sight of some rust around some screws scares people, but it is not a critical problem (he should have taken a look at some aircraft owned by United Airlines and some other US carriers to know that Iran Air is not alone in that respect).

Anyway this seems to be much ado about nothing, really.


MRX1

chert o pert

by MRX1 on

The world market is flooded with airplanes that you can buy, lease, rent, have some one else operate, there are so many options.....

IRI lackeys keep telling us that IRI builds fighter jets (saegheh, this that) why can't they just fix an old plane or build the spare parts for it?

As for writer of this piece, you have choices you could have taken other airlines out there. who in a right mind will travel on Iran air these days...


Artificial Intelligence

Iran's Airplane problems have nothing to do with sanctions

by Artificial Intelligence on

Just go buy newer and better Planes and service them like they should without cutting corners.


IranFirst

IRI is Lying, they can RENT

by IranFirst on

IRI and its appologists are lying. They can also RENT  fairly new airplanes, at fractions of costs, without violating the sanctions,  but human life has no value in IRI and Islam and they need the money to pay all their Arab friends and the terorists around the worl.

 

http://www.jamejamonline.ir/papertext.aspx?newsnum...


Ali Akbar

here it is the Saeqeh Fighter...

by Ali Akbar on

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bttQYIrPzJ0

now instead of whining about sanctions.... just build a new Airliner...

 

or go machine parts for the aging fleet... 


Ali Akbar

Blame the US for this....

by Ali Akbar on

Blame the USA for that....

IT'S RANING OUT SIDE   AND IT IS THE USA'S FAULT!!!!...sure the IRI could cut the funding for Hezbollah and use the money saved to buy state of the art planes or spend money to train machinists to make the necessary spare parts instead of training young men and women to strap c-4 to their bodies to terrorize it's neighbors....Furthermore, Mr Ali Delforoush if the IRI were better guardians of the public trust then you would not have all these worries...who was it earlier back in April of this year was trumpeting the"Advanced State" of Iranian Aerospace where they were able to cannibalize an F-5 into some advanced fighter.... If the Iranian aerospace Industry soooo advanced why can’t they machine spare parts for those aging 747's????

 


Kaveh Nouraee

The WHOLE Truth

by Kaveh Nouraee on

The IR can purchase Boeing and/or Airbus equipment (aircraft and parts) so long as the planes are at least 6 years old, and not acquired directly from Boeing or Airbus. If the IR were to get even a TEN year old plane it would be a VAST improvement over the current fleet.

The fact that Iran Air operates a fleet of crap is entirely their own doing. A big shame considering how Iran was once on the way to having one of the most modern state of the art fleets in the world.

Che khabar, you're right. Even the Russians won't fly the crap the IR bought for Iran Air. They're flying mostly Airbus. They're producing their own new plane, too, called a Sukhoi SuperJet, but Boeing has their hand in the project.

Funny how the Russians know when to put pride and ego to the side and ask for help but Iran doesn't.

But there is no "requirement", Hass. No one has to sell the IR a thing. This is a world of give and take, and the IR has done enough taking to last ten lifteimes. If they were to ever start giving (which I know will never happen), things would be a lot different.


hass

US sanctions are illegal

by hass on

Actually, the US is violating international law, which requires countries that sell civilian airplanes to also provide the maintenance and parts necessary for their safe operation.


che khabar e

It's hard to believe

by che khabar e on

That there isn't any other planes available to buy other than Boeing.  Doesn't anyone else make planes?  Surely the Russians aren't flying on those pieces of shit airplanes.  Why doesn't the IRI spend some of our oil money on new planes from somewhere else and not even have to rely on American parts? 

What am I missing here?


vildemose

These plance should be

by vildemose on

These plance should be grounded and not given permission to fly.

Aren't they violating safety regulations provisions??


Fred

Half-truth by NIAC lobbyist

by Fred on

NIAC lobbyist is not telling the whole truth. The Islamist cutthroat republic can buy brand new top of the line Russian passenger planes, it does not and buys/rents their old dilapidated “flying coffins”. The lobbyist has to also tell the truth about the many Islamist officials who have started their own airlines, about fifteen private airlines, and to maximize profitability at the peril of Iranian passengers, rent the “flying coffins” and skimp on their maintenance too.

On his next trip to the Islamist republic, the NIAC lobbyist might want to tell the Islamist officials to either upgrade the maintenance of their Russian fleet or stop their vitriolic posture so the sane world can feel safe enough to sell them passenger planes which do have military applications.

The NIAC lobbyist might also remind his Islamist interlocutors of their constant boastings about their technological prowess including the mass production of advanced long-range fighter planes, even ones that are “invisible to radar”, does not jive with their need for importation of less complicated passenger planes.