On December 23, four Airbus A340-300 widebodies took off a few minutes apart from Johannesburg International Airport, in South Africa, and followed on a direct flight to Tehran, capital of Iran. However, the aircraft’s original flight plan mentioned Uzbekistan as the final destination, but they never arrived there.
The four aircraft belonged to Turkish Airlines and had been stored in South Africa since 2019, on behalf of a Hong Kong company called Avro Global Limited. The four-engined A340s have serial numbers MSN115, MSN180, MSN270 and MSN331 and age between 23 and 27 years.
To make the case more unusual, the planes took off using Burkina Faso registrations (XT-AKA, XT-AKB, XT-AKK and XT-ALM) and flights were classified with the codes MAN3808, MAN3809, MAN3810 and MAN3811, which are used by the Iranian company Mahan Air.
— ORTIASpotter (@Groeniedraak) December 24, 2022
Due to trade sanctions imposed against Iran and which prevent local companies from buying new aircraft, the A340s diverted to Tehran may be part of some clandestine transaction carried out by Mahan Air, which is one of the largest airlines in Iran.
Iran has fleet of commercial planes from the past
Due to economic sanctions, air travel in Iran depends on a fleet of very old planes. Large carriers in the country such as Iran Air, Kish Air and Mahan Airlines operate aircraft that have practically stopped flying in the West, such as the Boeing 747-200, Fokker 100 and Airbus A340.
The newest commercial aircraft in use in the country are part of orders placed with Airbus and ATR that were authorized to be delivered to Iran Air between 2016 and 2018.
At that time, the sale of aircraft was approved by Barack Obama, former US president who had Joe Biden as vice president. However, in 2019, under the administration of Donald Trump, Washington again raised the economic barriers against Iran and remain so today.