UANI's Airports Campaign calls on airlines to cease their operations in Iran in response to the links between the Iranian Airports Company (“IAC”) and the blacklisted Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (“IRGC”). Despite IRGC control over airports and safety concerns, major airline carriers including Alitalia and Lufthansa continue to have a significant presence in Iran.
IAC (aka Iranian Airports Holding Company (IAHC)) was established by the Iranian regime in 1988. The IAC operates under the auspices of the Iranian government as a division of the Ministry of Transportation and Housing (formerly the Ministry of Roads and Transportation, until a merger in June 2011). The Ministry of Transportation and Housing has awarded contracts worth billions of dollars to the IRGC.
By a variety of methods, including through its connections to the Ministry of Transportation and Housing, the IRGC has exerted its authority and control of Iranian airports. The U.S. Government’s Congressional Research Service reports that the “IRGC has significant control over Iran’s borders and airports.” For example, at least 25 gates at Tehran International Airport reportedly operate outside the official Customs Office and have been placed under control of the IRGC.
The IRGC was also involved in the construction of Terminal One at Imam Khomeini Airport. As the RAND Corporation reports, the terminal was built by the Mostazafan Foundation, Iran's largest bonyad that is directly supervised by the Supreme Leader. Mostazafan is led by Mohammad Forouzandeh, a former IRGC commander and head of the Ministry of Defense.
The IRGC’s control of Iran’s airports is reportedly worth billions of dollars each year. The IRGC controls a “sprawling black-market industry” using transport hubs such as Payam International Airport to smuggle goods out of the country, including refined petroleum products.
Government control over the airports was clearly demonstrated in December 2012 when the Ahvaz Airport was approved for sale to the blacklisted, state-owned National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), because deposits of oil found beneath the runway tarmac. Mohammad Rasoulinejad, Managing Director of IAC, said that the airport would be relocated 9 miles away.
International airline carriers should also be concerned by significant safety issues at Iranian airports that threaten the safety of passengers and welfare of their aircraft. For example, in 2005, the UK and Canada warned nationals not to use the Imam Khomeini Airport due to fears of irrigation channels beneath the runways.
Yet, despite IRGC control over airports and safety concerns, major airline carriers continue to have a significant presence in Iran. Alitalia and Lufthansa both provide regular passenger flights as well as cargo services to and from Tehran's Imam Khomeini Airport. Lufthansa's also operates its own cargo terminal in the airport. Airlines like Alitalia and Lufthansa must also pay various fees to the IRGC-dominated airport relating to landing, parking, terminal facility, and security fees for the use of the airport's facilities.
Lufthansa has an especially intimate relationship with the Iranian aviation sector. Lufthansa Consulting has provided services for the expansion of Tehran Airport, as well as for the development of the Kish International Airport and the Pars Special Economic Energy Zone at the Persian Gulf International Airport.
In 2009, Lufthansa Cargo was investigated for its alleged part in transporting nuclear material from Russia to Iran, via Germany. In 2010, customs officials acting on behalf of prosecutors searched the Frankfurt offices of Lufthansa Cargo, “examining the alleged role in transporting nuclear-related supplies through Europe by workers of the three airlines” – Lufthansa, Emirates and AirBridge Cargo.
It is now time for Western airlines to immediately cease their operations in Iran.