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Crashes Without Consequences

by ALI CHENAR in Tehran

20 Jul 2010 23:578 Comments
1929.jpgSince Iranian aviation's worst summer a year ago, little appears to have changed.

On July 15, 2009, Caspian Airlines flight 7908, a Tupelov Tu-154M, departed from Imam Khomeini International Airport for Yerevan only to lose its engines 16 minutes later. In six seconds, it lost the altitude it had gained in six minutes. All on board were killed immediately. Their bodies were incinerated and the ashes scattered over a six-mile radius. No one was left to tell the world of the agonies of those final seconds. One hundred and sixty-eight people, many of them members of Iran's Armenian community, died. Last weekend, their families gathered at the site of the crash where their ashes now rest to mourn their loss, to say a few words of prayer, and to leave some flowers.

Nine days later, on July 24, Aria Airlines flight 1525, an Ilyushin Il-62M, touched down at Mashhad International Airport in the northeast of Iran. The pilot had already missed one third of the runway and landed at a speed faster than permitted by safety regulations. He decided to take off and go around, losing precious seconds to stop the aircraft. It went off the runway and hit a wall separating the airport from the farms surrounding it. Seventeen were killed on impact, among them Aria Airlines' CEO, the flight crew, and three passengers.

In the aftermath of these crashes, Iranian authorities grounded Aria's Il-62 airplanes while permitting Caspian to operate its Tu-154s without any interruption. The Iranian Civil Aviation Organization ruled that the Aria accident was due to pilot error and poor performance. In the case of the Caspian tragedy, the true cause of engine failure remains unknown. There was no official report released, even though the parts were sent to Russia for further analysis. Many analysts speculate that Iranian officials might be interested more in protecting Caspian, a well-connected airline, than in disclosing the true cause of its deadly crash.

In both cases, Iranian authorities asserted that the airplanes were fully inspected and air worthy. Nobody even publicly suggested that it was necessary to investigate official procedures for aircraft inspection or review the Mashhad air control mechanisms and procedures. There was no official who dared admit that Russian aircraft are operating in Iran only because sanctions deny Iranians access to Western aviation technology. The fault, as always, was either the pilot's or the airline's. Authorities washed their hands of any hint of responsibility. Addressing a session of the Majles (parliament), Minister of Roads and Transportation Hamid Behbahani blatantly declared, "This airline thing is none of my business!" Even a third crash last winter, again in Mashhad, did not motivate authorities to examine the nation's air control systems and aviation standards. Their only public commitment has been to announce an end to Russian-manufactured aircraft operations in Iran by summer 2010.

Still, many analysts and observers of the Iranian commercial aviation industry do not believe even this will be achieved. The recent U.N. Security Council sanctions have severed any technical support for the Western-manufactured components of the Iranian fleet. Even companies such as Fokker, which had been doing business with several Iranian airlines over the past 30 years, are now withdrawing from the market, leaving their clients bewildered by technical challenges.

Acquiring recently manufactured Western aircraft used to be difficult in Iran. Now it is almost impossible. Even if a private airline succeeds in securing a decent airplane, there is no guarantee that the necessary maintenance and technical support services will be provided without interruption. Thus it seems that the Russian Tu-154 is the only option available to Iranian airlines. Maybe for this very reason, the Iran Civil Aviation Organization has already unofficially notified air carriers that they may continue to operate their Tu-154s after the announced deadline for their withdrawal.

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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8 Comments

The Tu-154M is not an inherently flawed aircraft. Like any machine, it requires proper servicing and maintenance, and the crews require adequate training, etc.

The Iranians will continue to find ways to operate their civil airliners.

And they've been discussing the introduction of Tu-204s, An-148s and Sukhoi Superjet 100s.

Pirouz / July 20, 2010 7:47 PM

None of these aircrafts will be introduced all of them have enough American made components to be included in sanctions. The discussions have been going on for a decade now, and no results. TU 154 M is an old design and lacks many safety procedures, although a solid aircraft it lacks computer system to correct pilot errors.

Ali / July 20, 2010 9:45 PM


Dear Ali,

you may have forgotten to mention, but the ICAO (the international authority on civil aviation) has stated (formally and publicly) on more than one occasion that the U.S. embargo on aircraft and aircraft parts is in contravention of the article 44 of the Chicago Convention, to which the U.S. is a signatory. ICAO has pointed out that the sale of spare parts for maintenance of aircraft is a humanitarian issue.

Examining aviation standards and enforcing safety rules is certainly a good thing -- no one would argue (I think!). However, I think it is worthwhile for you to mention that in practice such inspections mean little if one country can unilaterally and inhumanely enforce a morally questionable embargo on parts that make such inspections useful and effective.

Jay / July 20, 2010 10:52 PM

only europeans and americans can built planes.

once Iran Air was right there at the top in the airline industry. during the Shahs (rest in peace) time Iran Air was second best after Quantas and NO accidents happened.

now with the IR Iran Air is among the worlds absolute worst airlines. Ill never use Iran air and its daughter companies.

Arman / July 20, 2010 10:56 PM

Dear Jay,
Thank you for your insightful comment. I fully agree that this is a humanitarian issue as well. In the article I wanted to picture the existing situation caused by both sanctions and mismanagement. I was hoping that point was coming through.

Ali Chenar / July 21, 2010 7:49 AM

My heart goes out to these people. Why should they have to suffer so much? Is there anything left in Iran that these barbarians have not trashed yet? It is absolutely shameful to see so much suffering right before one's eyes, so much pain and yet some people on this very site do their outmost to white wash the crimes committed by these genocidal maniacs to protect and preserve the Barbaric Republic in some form or shape.
Once, they represented the moderates. When that failed, they painted themselves Green. Only God knows what sort of gimmick one has to put up with tomorrow, as long as there is no reference to anything nationalistic. God forbid, that might prompt Iranians to unite and free themselves from this subhuman way of life.

Niloofar / July 21, 2010 9:05 AM

I think that worst thing that i can ever hope for anybody is to have to sit in the back of a TU before taking of the landing strip. Last time on 06 i had to fly from Shiraz to tehran on a TU. I had heard bad things about it and was advised to just go to Tehran on Wednesdays when there is a Airbus flight but i could not fly on that day.
Anyways, we boarded 15 minutes before flight. I got a seat way back in the airplane. It was tight, super noisy and worst ever, the AC was off. I literally was at the point of passing out. I was well over 100f, everybody was sweating like crazy and the damn plane would not take off.
I told the flight attendant guy what is up with the AC and he said , they dont turn it on before the flight starts. I honestly thought that i am not gonna make it, nor i could muster my gut to say "To Hell with This" i am out of here. I though if i get up and was not to leave they are gonna freak out and i would end up in a prison or something.
Anyways, later i heard that the reason for the TUs being so hot inside is because the ones that Iran was renting was the kind used for colder countries like Russia ...etc that is why they AC was set on warm temp.

To end the saga, i would HIGHLY recommend if you have to fly in iran's domestic routes, you better check with your ticket agent first to make sure you dont end up in a TU.

PersianTraveler / July 25, 2010 1:42 AM

Where are you getting this information(Six seconds, etc.)? I have tried to get flight data ever since it crashed and no one is giving it out. I want to know PBS sources!

Chucky / October 3, 2010 10:51 PM