By Nadeska Noriega e Irene Revilla.
During seven days, six flights landed in Venezuela after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran, Iran. Five have arrived at the Josefa Camejo International Airport in Falcón state and one at the Simon Bolívar International Airport in Maiquetía, despite the no-fly orders imposed by the Nicolas Maduro regime as a measure to avoid the spread of COVID 19.
The air operations have been carried out by planes of the controversial Iranian private airline Mahan Air, which according to sources of Venezuelan Civil Aeronautics Institute -Inac in Spanish- received a special permit to operate, despite the suspension of flights, which is in force until May 14.
“This special operating permit is part of the 2020 Contingency Air Bridge Plan, coordinated by the Inac, mainly for the transportation of medical material, biomedical samples, and humanitarian flights.
Although in the case of the Iranian airline it is not about these three aspects, it has been handled in this way because the flights through Mahan Air are handled as strategic actions for the country,” a source from the Inac told El Pitazo, asking to remain anonymous.
According to the source, at least ten more Mahan Air flights could be made to Las Piedras and Maiquetía in the coming days.
The source remembers that it was in April 2019 when Mahan Air began operations in Venezuela on the Tehran – Caracas route. The first commercial flight was made in 2019, April 9. However, the route is not commercial.
A sanctioned airlane
Mahan Air is the second-largest airline in Iran and has been sanctioned by several countries, including the U.S. for its alleged links with official Iranian organizations such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Although, the Inac has not offered an official version on the reason for granting permits to Mahan Air, during the mandatory quarantine, a newsletter from the Venezuelan News Agency (AVN), quoting vice-minister for refining and Petrochemicals, Erling Rojas, reported last April 26, that “Venezuela received from Iran a catalyst to resume operations in the Catalytic Cracking in the Cardon Refinery to produce gasoline”.
Sources consulted by El Pitazo at both airports, Las Piedras and Maiquetía, agree that Mahan Air’s flights, despite being carried out in its Airbus 340-642 aircraft, with an average capacity for 400 passengers, have not transported more than twelve people in every flight and are being used as cargo aircraft.
International media agree that the Iran-Venezuela air bridge seeks the reactivation of the Paraguana Refining Center Complex, located in Falcon State. Mahan Air’s cargo is reportedly bringing in refinery parts, catalysts, and Iranian technical equipment and teams.