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Official Claims Sanctioned Airline's China Flights ‘Only For Humanitarian Cargo’

Photo posted on Twitter account of Chinese Ambassador in Tehran Showing Ambassador Chang Hua (L) with Hamid Arabnejad (C), CEO of Mahan Air. January 2, 2020

An Iranian news agency on Thursday reported that the sanctioned Mahan Airline has continued its flights to China despite the government ban on February 14. The airline is widely blamed by the Iranian public for the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Iran.

The Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) on Thursday morning titled its article, “Story of Continuation of Mahan Flights to China” but a few hours later altered both the text and the headline which now quots an official of the Civil Aviation Organization (CAO) saying, “We Are Only Bringing Medical Equipment”.

Based on flight information from Shanghai Airport, ISNA said Mahan W577 from Tehran, a scheduled flight, was going to arrive in Shanghai at 9:55 local time.

Screenshot of PlaneMapper showing scheduled Mahan Flights to Shanghai's Bayun International Airport on Febraury 28 and March 4.
Screenshot of PlaneMapper showing scheduled Mahan Flights to Shanghai's Bayun International Airport on Febraury 28 and March 4.

Mahan airline is partly owned by the Revolutionary Guard. It was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury in 2011 for supporting the Revolutionary Guard's Qods [Quds] Force.

On December 11, 2019, the Treasury Department designated three of Mahan Air's general sales agents based in the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong for "facilitating the Iranian regime's support to proxy militias".

In response to ISNA’s question about the continuation of Mahan flights to Shanghai on Thursday the Spokesman of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization Reza Jafarzadeh said the flights are only cargo flights, not passenger flights. “Mahan Airline can not have any flights without the permission of CAO,” he said.

“After the cancellation of flights [to China] Mahan Air has no flights to China unless it is approved by authorities, with the permission of CAO and careful supervision of the Ministry of Health,” Jafarzadeh was quoted by ISNA as saying and claiming that the flights were only for delivering China’s humanitarian aid including coronavirus test kit, medical equipment and material for medical and other factories.

The Civil Aviation Organization Spokesman, however, did not specify what kind of authorization and by who has made the Thursday flight to Shanghai possible.

Reports of continuation of Mahan Air flights to China despite the ban have drawn criticism from lawmakers and the public.

On February 2 the Chinese envoy in Tehran posted photos of a meeting with Hamid Arabnejad, the CEO of Mahan Air, on Twitter and said the Iranian Airline CEO had announced willingness “to continue cooperation with China".

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    Maryam Sinaiee

    Maryam Sinaiee is a British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National, who contributes to Radio Farda.