Iranian Mahan Air to open direct route to Venezuela

Iranian airline Mahan Air has begun flying between Tehran and Caracas, Venezuela, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Organization of Iran announced on April 8, 2019.

On the same day, the first flight (WH5134) carried out by an Airbus A340 registered EP-MMR took off from Imam Jomeiní International Airport (IKA), Tehran, for a 16-hour flight, and landed in Caracas Simon Bolivar International Airport (CCS).

The aircraft was reportedly carrying an official delegation of the Iranian Foreign Ministry set to meet with officials from Nicolás Maduro’s government to discuss the current situation in Venezuela. A delegation from Mahan Air was also on board to negotiate the conditions of regular flights between the two countries, according to the Iranian news agency Mehr.

The opening of a new international route towards Venezuela is unusual. As a consequence of Maduro’s economic policies, about two third of the routes towards the South American country were canceled in the past years, starting with Air Canada (ADH2) in 2014.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which closed its office in Caracas in 2018, has been repeatedly calling onto Venezuela to reimburse airlines over $3.8 billion worth of tickets that were sold in bolivares. “We’re not giving up. But without a major shift in Venezuela’s political situation, it is difficult to see this resolving in the short-term,” Alexandre de Juniac said during the last IATA general meeting in June 2018.

Earlier in 2019, Mahan Air was banned from operating passenger flights to and from Germany and France, on the suspicion that it had provided technical and material support to the Quds Force, the Special Forces unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards that are involved in the Syrian civil war.

In 2011, Mahan Air had already been blacklisted by the United States for the same reasons. On September 14, 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed sanctions on a Thailand-based company called My Aviation, because of its alleged links with the Iranian airline.

“From our standpoint, there’s clearly no commercial reason to establish this flight at this time,” an official from the U.S. government commented on the opening of a Tehran-Caracas line to Reuters, adding “this is a politically motivated gesture that is unhelpful to the Venezuelan people because it doesn’t accelerate the change that we’re looking for”.

Tensions have recently escalated between the United States and Iran, as both countries have classified their respective armies as “terrorist groups” on April 9, 2019.

Founded in 1991, Mahan Air is the second biggest Iranian company after the national carrier Iran Air. It operates a fleet of 54 aircraft, mainly Airbus.

Read more: US sanctions Thai company over ties with Iranian airline

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