Past morning, an Iran Air A330 on its way to Hamburg entered a holding pattern waiting for the heavy fog placed over the airport to lift.
However, a little over one hour later, the plane lifted back up to 30,000 feet and took off for… Milan. How come?
Fog and prolonged holding
On morning Monday, September 6th, an Iran Air Airbus A330 working Flight IR723 took off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport at 04:03 local time and headed for Hamburg, Germany.
Iran Air Airbus A330
However, as the plane came in for approach at about 06:30 German time, heavy fog with visibility less than 150 meters prevented a safe landing.
Following close to a dozen loops in a holding pattern at about 10,000 feet south of Lubeck, the pilots decided to change the direction to the south.
Preferably than head towards another German airport, however, the aircraft traveled an additional 1,000 kilometers to arrive at Milan Malpensa.
It touched down without incident at 09:09 local time.
After nearly three hours on the ground, it made its way back to the north and to its planned destination.
With all the airports connecting Hamburg and Milan (Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, etc.), why did the cockpit crew of Flight IR723 decide to go all the way to Italy for a diversion due to fog? The answer lies, partially, on the other side of the Atlantic.
US sanctions prohibit fueling
Iran Air is not allowed to take jet fuel at each airport in Germany.
This is because many western supply organizations have stopped selling fuel to the airline in order to comply with the sanctions imposed against Iran and its flag carrier by the US.
- The problems for Iranian airlines to refuel in much of Europe first arose in 2011. Measures were tightened again in 2019, making any third parties who supply Iranian airlines with maintenance, catering, refueling, and even booking, also liable to prosecution. For fuel companies, of which many also operate in the US, this is a bit of a conundrum.
Iran Air’s aircraft
Normally, Iran Air’s aircraft that make the trip to Europe bring enough fuel with them to return to Tehran. However, following the prolonged holding Monday morning, the A330 no higher had sufficient to make it back to Iran. Hence, the detour to the most touching available – and accessible – fuel supply.
Iran deems the sanctions inhuman
During the jet fuel sanctions that were first required in 2011, the returns from Iran were not long-reaching.
Mr. Mehmanparast told Reuters at the time
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast called the steps inhuman and said they would lead to weakened safety in Iranian aviation.
“Not supplying a passenger plane with fuel is an inhuman action that violates international norms,” Mr. Mehmanparast told Reuters at the moment.
The ban on sales of spare parts for aircraft put into question the future safety of Iran’s aging passenger plane fleet, following just on the heels of the clash of a nearly 40-year-old Iran Air Boeing 727.
Flight IR277 crashed following aborting its way into the Urmia Airport due to bad climate, killing 78 of the 96 people on board.
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