DUBAI (Reuters) - An Iranian airline that acquired nine passenger jets in defiance of U.S. sanctions will begin using them on international routes this week, the Fars news agency reported on Monday.
Mahan Air, which is blacklisted by Washington, acquired eight second-hand Airbus A340s and one Airbus A321 in early May. The U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on two firms based in Iraq and the United Arab Emirates on suspicion of helping the purchase.
The A340s will start flying from Tehran to Dubai and Istanbul within two days, and will later be used for long-haul journeys, Fars reported.
Tehran-based Mahan Air could not be reached for comment.
The U.S. Treasury department last month said Mahan Air had a “blockable interest” in the planes, meaning they could be subject to an asset freeze, raising the possibility that U.S. officials may attempt to have them seized at airports outside Iran.
The United States, which has imposed the most stringent sanctions on Iran, a country that is also under European and some U.N. measures over its nuclear activities, bans the sale of aircraft and parts to the Islamic Republic.
Although the planes involved are second-hand and European-built, Washington’s sanctions regime still allows it to blacklist entities involved in the transaction, blocking those companies from international financial markets.
The long-standing ban on the sales of spare parts was eased under an interim nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in late 2013, but U.S. sanctions still restrict the sale of aircraft.
Although second-hand, Mahan Air’s new aircraft are younger and in better condition than most of Iran’s fleet, which has struggled to keep up maintenance under sanctions.
Airlines with limited access to the latest aircraft tend to use their best aircraft for overseas routes, due to higher safety standards and ticket costs.
Iranian airlines have suffered several fatal crashes in recent years due to mechanical failures. Thirty-nine people were killed in August last year when a locally built plane of Ukrainian design crashed after taking off from Tehran.
Reporting by Sam Wilkin; Editing by Tim Hepher and Robin Pomeroy