Helicopter crash kills Raisi: Are sanctions behind Iran aviation crisis? | Aviation news

Sanctions have prevented Iran from acquiring new planes or equipment, which have been linked to aviation accidents.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian were confirmed dead on Monday after their helicopter crashed in a mountainous, forested area of ​​East Azerbaijan province amid dense fog. Six other people aboard the helicopter also died, including crew members.

The American-made two-bladed Bell 212 that Raisi was traveling in is believed to have been decades old. Foreign sanctions on Iran dating back to the 1979 revolution, and later for its nuclear program and its support for the so-called “axis of resistance,” have made it difficult for the country to obtain spare parts or new planes.

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(Al Jazeera)

Since the first US sanctions on Iran 45 years ago, the Iranian economy has continued to take hits and its airlines, in particular, have been affected.

But Iran’s tense geopolitical neighborhood, and especially its strained relationship with Israel and the United States, have also led to deadly mistakes that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people.

Below is a summary of some of the largest aviation accidents that have occurred in Iran since 1979 and how sanctions have affected the sector.

Iran’s biggest aviation incidents

Between 1979 and 2023, Iranian plane crashes have killed more than 2,000 people, according to the Geneva-based Bureau of Aircraft Accident Archives (B3A).

  • January 21, 1980: A Boeing 727-100 operated by flag carrier Iran Air crashed into a mountainside in the Alborz mountain range in Tehran, killing all 128 occupants. An inoperable instrument landing system (ILS) and limited visibility due to night and weather are believed to have caused the accident. The crash occurred shortly after Iranian air traffic controllers ended a strike.
  • November 3, 1986: A Lockheed C-130 Hercules operated by Iran’s air force fell below the minimum safe altitude of 6,500 feet (1,981 m) when the aircraft crashed into a mountainside in Sistan and Balochistan province, killing its crew. 103 occupants, including 96 soldiers. According to experts, a failure in the altimeter, which is used to measure altitude, could have caused the accident.
  • July 13, 1988: An Airbus A300 operated by Iran Air was hit by missiles fired by the US Navy cruiser USS Vincennes at Qeshm Island after the ship mistook the plane for a military aircraft. This killed all 290 occupants in the deadliest aircraft crash in Iran’s history.
  • February 12, 2002: An Iran Airtour Tupolev TU-154 crashed into a mountainside in Khorramabad after the crew failed to realize the plane was diverted, killing all 119 occupants, including four Spanish citizens. Lack of visibility due to weather was a possible contributing factor.
  • February 19, 2003: An Ilyushin II-76 operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) crashed into a mountain near Kerman airport upon landing, killing all 275 people on the plane. The crew began the descent prematurely and descended below the minimum safe altitude with poor visibility.
  • July 15, 2009: A Tupolev TU-154 operated by Caspian Airlines crashed in an open field in Qazvin after descending rapidly, killing all 168 people on the plane. The accident was attributed to several technical faults, such as damaged engine parts and cuts in the hydraulic and fuel lines.
  • January 8, 2020: A Boeing 737-800 operated by Ukraine’s flag carrier Ukraine International Airlines was shot down by two missiles minutes after takeoff in Sabashahr, Tehran, killing 176 people on board. The government said it was a “human error” after the plane was mistaken for a “hostile target.”

How have sanctions affected Iran’s aviation sector?

Shortly after sanctions were imposed in 1979, Iran’s aviation sector was especially hard hit because the government was unable to import new aircraft. Iran suffered an increase in fatal air crashes during the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s.

A central element of US sanctions against Iranian aviation is a ban on the country’s import of any aircraft or aircraft equipment built with more than 10 percent US parts. That has effectively ruled out the prospects of Iran purchasing new Western planes or helicopters, but it has also made it difficult for Tehran to obtain the parts it needs to maintain its aging fleets. Some Russian planes also rely on American parts, so getting even those planes is difficult for Iran, despite the close ties between Tehran and Moscow and their shared enmity with Washington.

The United States denies responsibility for Iran’s history of air crashes. A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera that “each country’s government has its own responsibility to ensure the safety and reliability of its equipment.” The US sanctions on Iran’s aviation sector, the official said, were a consequence of Tehran using planes to transport weapons to armed groups that Washington describes as “terrorists.”

On May 20, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller was also asked during a regular briefing about comments by former Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blaming US sanctions for Raisi’s helicopter crash.

“So, first of all, we are not going to apologize at all for our sanctions regime,” Miller responded. “Ultimately, it is the Iranian government that is responsible for the decision to fly a 45-year-old helicopter in what was described as poor weather conditions, not any other actor.”

Meanwhile, the result of Iran’s failure to ensure the maintenance of its aircraft has been revealing: in April 2019, 23 Iranian airlines were operating 156 aircraft out of a total of 300 in the country, suggesting that almost half of the aircraft in the country could not fly due to the wait for spare parts, according to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The frequent need for repairs has driven up airline ticket prices in Iran and also put economic pressure on smaller aircraft companies. The planes also cannot be sent abroad for repair and must be repaired locally, with limited expert labor, Mohammad Mohammadi-Bakhsh, head of Iran’s aviation agency, the Civil Aviation Organization, told the Fars news agency in 2022. of Iran (CAO).

In 2015, the nuclear deal with Iran called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed. In it, Iran agreed to stop the production of materials that could be used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. In exchange, sanctions on the aviation sector were relaxed, allowing it to purchase aircraft from foreign manufacturers such as Airbus and Boeing.

However, sanctions were reimposed when the United States unilaterally abandoned the nuclear deal under former President Donald Trump in 2018. And according to the Washington Institute, the brief period in which sanctions were lifted did not help Iran much: Iran ordered more than 200 planes from Western companies in those three years, but received only three Airbus planes and 13 ATR turboprops (smaller planes) before Trump reimposed sanctions.