Germany’s ‘Air Force One’ Sold to Iran
Just days after the publication of a report detailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and subsequent calls from nations around the world—including Germany—for stricter trade sanctions, the former Luftwaffe Airbus A310-304 designated “Theodor Heuss” (10-22) was flown from Kiev to Tehran for use by Mahan Air, Spiegel has confirmed.
Several months earlier, in May, the German government announced it was selling the 22-year-old aircraft, as it had been made redundant by a former Lufthansa Airbus A340-300 specially refurbished for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her successors. Only weeks later, it was announced that an Eastern European investment group had purchased the aircraft for about $4.2 million (€3.1 million), though, the government said, the buyers had not decided what they were going to use it for. There is speculation that the investors either were used as a front for the Iranians or intended to sell the plane to Mahan Air the whole time.
It would not be the first time Iranian air carriers had skirted trade sanctions with Germany through proxies in Eastern Europe. Ukrainian middlemen were used to procure several former Lufthansa Airbus A300s for Iran Air.
Named after the first post-war German President Theodor Heuss, the A310 had served Helmut Kohl, Gerhard Schroeder, Joschka Fischer and Angela Merkel over its two decades of service. It is now registered EP-VIP with Mahan Air.
While demand for air travel has grown in Iran, trade sanctions have prevented the nation’s airlines from modernizing their fleets and meeting the comfort and reliability demands of passengers. The flag carrier, Iran Air, flies numerous Boeing 727 and 747 jets that are over 30 years old, and Airbus aircraft that have been in service for well over 20 years. Other airlines operate aging Russian jets. The Iranian government, which has traditionally been protectionist of its airlines, is currently considering an unprecedented offer from Qatar Airways to operate domestic flights within Iran as Iranian planes are simply not up to the task.
This past January, a vintage Iran Air Boeing 727 crashed in Urmia, Iran, killing 77. In September, when a Mahan Air Airbus A310 slid off a runway in the northeastern part of the country, 11 were injured. More recently, another Iran Air Boeing 727 landed in Tehran without its nose landing gear, though no one was injured. Several hundred more have been killed and injured in plane crashes in Iran in the past several years.
For its part, Mahan Air was recently implicated in a plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, earning it a spot on the U.S.’s list of terrorism supporting entities which no American may do business with.