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Iran Sanctions' Risk To Air Safety.

Six months before a US-made Iranian military transport plane crashed on Dec. 6 and killed 108 people, a report prepared for the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) warned that American sanctions against Iran were placing civilian lives in danger by denying Iranian aviation necessary spare parts and aircraft repair. The report written by a Canadian contractor, which ICAO officials said Iran had requested and paid for but had no role in writing, did not deal with military aircraft. But it said the US government and major US companies were ignoring international treaties and taking actions that put passengers on Iranian commercial airlines at risk, including thousands of people from other countries travell-ing to and from Iran.

Reportedly the ICAO, a world body overseeing rules for all the aviation countries, checked the report for technical accuracy. Like other such reports, it was neither endorsed nor rejected by the ICAO. It received little attention until it recently reached officials in the aviation industry. Asked for comment on the report, an official of the US State Department noted that Iran had paid for it and that the plane that crashed on Dec. 6 was not a commercial airliner.

No US military parts have been approved for Iran since the overthrow of the Pahlavi Shah in early 1979. The International Herald Tribune (IHT) on Dec. 14 quoted a US official as saying that, if any Iranian civilian aircraft were unsafe to fly, it would be the responsibility of civil air authorities in Iran to keep it grounded.

The contractor who did the report, Albert Keith Bryson, a Canadian who now lives in Dubai, was selected by the ICAO, which is headquartered in Montreal. A spokesman said the ICAO was careful to ensure that such studies were unbiased. The ICAO said in a statement that its President, Assad Kotaite of Lebanon, had once persuaded the US to provide spare parts for an Iranian Boeing 747 and was now involved in negotiations for delivery of more spare parts.

The IHT quoted the statement as saying: "In all discussions, Dr. Kotaite always recognized the commitment of the United States to ensure the safety of airline operations, and that this was the guiding principle during the present negotiations. When the United States was convinced that safety was in jeopardy, they allowed spare parts to be delivered".

The IHT said it was too early to determine whether a lack of proper parts or maintenance caused the crash on Dec. 6 of an Iranian military C-130. Iranian news media reported that the takeoff from Tehran was delayed repeatedly by mechanical problems as the plane prepared for a flight to Bandar Abbas with 68 Iranian reporters on their way to watch Iranian military exercises. In calls to family members from the plane, several reporters speculated that it might be unable to take off. Eventually it did, but minutes later it suffered an engine failure and rammed into a housing area. Since then, the Iranian government has come under sharp criticism for allowing a flight with civilians aboard by a plane almost 30 years old that was starved for spare parts by the US embargo.

US actions listed as detrimental to safety in the report the ICAO commissioned include refusal by US companies to provide spare parts, confiscation of engines sent to other countries for repair, withholding of navigation information, and even threats to stop providing parts to European airlines for their own planes if they did maintenance work for Iran. The report said: "The lack of concern for aviation safety is surprising in intensity and vigor. Since most Iranian aircraft spend most of their time in foreign airspace over foreign built-up areas, common sense and an agreed minimum level of safety must prevail within the concept of economic sanctions".

Iran Air and eight smaller Iranian airlines fly over much of Europe, often without the latest navigation charts, according to the report. In addition, the report said, though 23 foreign airlines landed in Iraq, many navigation aids were not being properly calibrated because one of the two Iranian aircraft equipped with special calibrating equipment was grounded for lack of parts. The report said some deaths and injuries in Iranian civil air crashes could be at least partly attributed to the effects of sanctions. In one case, the report said, a child was killed and several adults were injured when the landing gear of an old Boeing 707 owned by SAHA Airlines collapsed on landing in Iran in April.

The report said two companies not based in the US, the aircraft builder Airbus and the engine manufacturer Rolls Royce, had been providing full service to Iran. Most of Iran's current aircraft are Boeing products, however. The study accused Boeing of taking an excessively narrow interpretation of the requirements of the US embargo. In addition to refusing to sell planes to Iran, Boeing refused to offer the airline any help in complying with important safety bulletins, the study said. The IHT quoted Boeing as saying: "US government sanctions against Iran prohibit US companies from doing business in that country. Boeing abides by those sanctions and the US government policies behind them. However, because passenger and aircraft safety are a top priority at Boeing, in 2004 we submitted a license request to the US government that would allow us to survey the condition of Iranian commercial aircraft, determine flight safety requirements, and ultimately [under separate licence] provide spares and parts to Iran's airlines". Boeing said it had heard nothing from the US government about its request.

The report was particularly critical of General Electric, the world's leading manufacturer of aircraft engines. It said GE had threatened to stop providing services to Lufthansa, Air France, KLM and the Turkish airline THY if they did any more maintenance or overhaul work for Iranian airlines which used GE parts. Those airlines immediately halted Iranian work, leaving several engines sitting unfinished. The IHT quoted a GE spokesman at the company's jet engine division in Cincinnati, Rick Kennedy, as saying his company had been trying for a year and a half to get permission to export safety-related parts to Iran, but like Boeing, had heard nothing from the US authorities. In the meantime, he said, the company believed it would be breaking the law if it allowed any repair work of any kind to take place anywhere with US parts.

The report for the ICAO said that Honeywell, a major provider of air navigation equipment and software, had deliberately delayed delivering important navigation information to Iranian airlines, and it called the delay "a serious threat to aviation safety". Honeywell said it "is committed to aviation safety worldwide and works with its global customers to ensure they have the most current data and products while complying with all US export laws and regulations".
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 19, 2005
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