Why Did Four Uzbekistan-bound A340s "Vanish" Over Iran?

What's the final destination of the four ex-Turkish Airlines A340s that were diverted to Tehran last week?



December 28, 2022

DALLAS — A mysterious event happened last week. Four Airbus A340 aircraft bound for Uzbekistan departed South Africa but requested a diversion to Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA), presumably their final destination.

The flight information was confirmed by various flight trackers, which spread the word on social media regarding the suspicious diversion.

The four A340-300 units (MSN 115, 180, 270, and 331) were formerly operated by Turkish Airlines (TK) before their retirement in March and April 2019. The planes were later transferred to AVRO Global Ltd., which stored them at OR Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg until December this year.


According to OneMileAtATime, in 2022 all four A340s were re-registered in Burkina Faso with new registration codes: XT-AKA, XT-AKB, XT-AKK, and XT-ALM, and on December 23, they took off from JNB with an unknown callsign MAN, which doesn't belong to any known AOC, and flew north towards Uzbekistan, diverting to Tehran after entering Iranian airspace.

Let's remember that Iran is one of the most sanctioned countries worldwide and is not allowed at the moment to order new aircraft from manufacturers. Its purchase possibilities for second-hand airplanes and spare parts are severely limited.


A Method for Sanction Avoidance?

Speculation on social media has already begun, and it all indicates that Iran has actually bought these four A340 aircraft and simulated a group diversion to IKA to acquire them, avoiding any sanction that prohibits the country from officially purchasing airplanes.

Of course, this maneuver has not been confirmed nor denied by any official authority.

If true, it is unknown which airline is destined to operate the A340s. Looking at the actual fleets of Iranian carriers, only three operators fly the quad-jet today: Mahan Air (W5), Iran Aseman Airlines (EP), and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

We can firstly discard the Government of Iran as the future owner of the fleet, even though the only A340-300 they operate is actually an ex-TK plane. This is because a total fleet of five wide bodies would exceed the needs of transporting government officials very rarely on intercontinental routes.

Of the two other carriers, while most sources suggest W5 will be the final customer, the airline already has a decent fleet of five A340-300 and five A340-600 aircraft, and it wouldn't be very logical for it to add such a large number of wide-body aircraft to their fleet as the range of destinations it serves is rather small.

It would be a more common-sense move for Iran Aseman Airlines to acquire the four A340s, as the company operates just one unit and it may be in its interest to expand its international fleet as the company is going through an important privatization process.

In-house aviation experts have also said the aircraft might end up in Venezuela. We can recall that back in August 2022, U.S. Commerce and Justice Department actions targeted a Venezuelan airline that works with Iran's sanctioned W5.

For now, the final destination of the A340s is anyone's guess. Where do you think they will end up? Be sure to leave your comments on our social media channels.


Featured image: An unpainted Airbus A340-300 taxiing in Madrid-Barajas (MAD): Adrian Nowakowski/Airways