The weekend’s crash of an Iranian plane over the country’s mountainous interior came just a week after a Saratov Airlines jet went down in Russia, shortly after taking off from Moscow.
And for the second time in seven days, the safety and maintenance records of an airline have been called into question, with geopolitics again at the centre of whether a carrier can be trusted to look after its passengers.
How safe is flying in Iran?
Iran certainly seems to have had more than its fair share of air accidents.
According to the Aviation Safety Network, there have been 59 fatal air accidents involving Iranian carriers since 1919, including 31 since 1989. Of those 31 fatal accidents, 17 saw at least a dozen passengers perish. By comparison, there have been only two air crashes involving UK airlines since 1989 that saw 12 or more fatalities.
The most recent was in 2014, when a Sepahan Airlines flight crashed near Tehran minutes after taking off, killing 40 passengers. After the grounding of its entire fleet, the airline ceased operations.
In 2011, a Boeing 727 operated by Iran Air crashed in north-western Iran, killing 78 people, while in 2009, 168 died when a Caspian Airlines Tupolev TM-154 suffered a bird strike and crashed near Jannatabad on its way to Armenia.
Why has Iran suffered so many air crashes?
Tehran has long blamed US sanctions, imposed on the Islamic republic prior to a recent thaw in relations, for the country’s poor air crash record, arguing that economic difficulties makes maintaining a fleet of ageing aircraft difficult, and hinders its ability to purchase new planes.
Indicative of how this impacts airlines in the country is the average age of flag carrier Iran Air’s fleet: 21.1 years, according to Air Fleets, which includes a 38-year-old Airbus A300. That compares to Delta, which has one of the oldest fleets of any major airlines, at 17 years, and the likes of Aeroflot, which has an average fleet age of just 4.2 years.
Indeed, according to research by Telegraph Travel, Iranian airlines are responsible for flying two of the world’s 10 oldest operating aircraft, with Caspian Airlines flying a 40-year-old 747 which trumps that elderly Iran Air A300.
The Iran Aseman Airlines plane that crashed at the weekend, a twin-engined, turboprop ATR72, was 24 years old.
According to Iranian news website Roozarooz, the plane had only recently begun flying again after seven years of repairs. “The plane which crashed today faced technical problems midair during a recent flight a few weeks ago,” Roozarooz reported.
Aseman Airlines operates five other ATR72 aircraft, the oldest dating back to 1993.
Are old aircraft unsafe?
Older aircraft are not in themselves dangerous – for example, British Airways just last week flew a 28-year-old Boeing 747 to Miami and back – but the aircraft must be properly maintained.
Following the crash of the Russian aircraft last week, a spotlight was shone on an aviation culture that used to survive on “aviacannibalism”, when old planes were broken down to provide parts for other aircraft. Iran, too, would struggle to find parts for 30-year-old planes.
It is this type of culture that recently led the EU to ban all Fokker F100s and Boeing 747s owned by Iran Air from its airspace.
What about Iran Aseman Airlines?
Despite some of its planes being prohibited from flying above Europe, Iran Air operates direct flights between London and Tehran, often using its much more modern A330s.
Iran Aseman Airlines, a semi-private carrier owned by an Iranian civil service pension foundation, however, is banned from European skies.
Accordingly the airline, the third largest in Iran with 26 aircraft, flies only in and around the Middle East and central Asia.
Its latest fatal crash was in 1994, when one of its Fokker F28s en route from Isfahan to Tehran suffered a sudden loss of power and crashed, killing all 66 on board.
However, the airline is in the process of updating its fleet, having signed a deal with Boeing in June last year to purchase 30 new 737MAX aircraft.
Is Iran modernising its aviation industry?
Iran’s carriers are currently negotiating with both Airbus and Boeing over the purchase of billions of pounds worth of new planes.
In 2016, Boeing signed a contract with Iran Air for the sale of 30 large 777s and 50 737 MAXs, while in the same year Airbus agreed a price for 100 new aircraft, including A320s, A330s and A350s.
Other Iranian airlines, including Airtour Airlines and Zagros Airlines, have also been in talks with Airbus.
According to a 2010 assessment of the Iranian aviation industry by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, Iran was found to be performing above the global average across a number of categories, including airworthiness and accident investigation.