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November 1, 2011

Congress Escalates War on Aviation in Iran


You think landing a plane under normal circumstances is tough?  Try landing one without the front landing gear.  This rather traumatizing and harrowing experience brings up an issue that needs to be examined: the effect of sanctions on Iran’s civilian aviation fleet.  The fleet is already dangerously dilapidated, crash prone and is set to become worse still.  But outrageous as it sounds, some members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee believe it should be even more dangerous to fly in Iran, and are taking action to make it so.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee is set to vote on a bill tomorrow that would prevent the President from utilizing his humanitarian waiver authority to license the repair of civilian aircraft and the sale of civilian spare parts to Iran.  The bill would specifically ban “licenses to export or reexport goods, services, or technology relating to civil aviation” and make all existing licenses null and void.
Congress evidently doesn’t care much about your safety if you’re Iranian or if you’re one of the 75% of Iranian Americans who travel to Iran.

H.R. 1905, the bill being voted on, is not an anomaly but rather the latest in a long sequence of punitive measures directed against Iran’s civilian aviation fleet.  The near-total trade embargo that President Clinton imposed on Iran led the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization  to report in 2005 that sanctions had “endangered the safety of civil aviation in Iran.”  Congress further targeted Iran’s aviation industry last year, when Congressional sanctions led the EU to stop refueling Iranian airplanes.  And in recent months, the Obama administration has sanctioned Iran Air and Mahan Air, two of Iran’s main airlines.  This action has even led the International Air Transport Association to stop processing payment services for anyone seeking to purchase a plane ticket.
Washington Post reporter Thomas Erdbrink recently experienced the effects of this firsthand, tweeting:

“Flew #Iran Air AMS-TEH yesterday, stopped in Germany to pick up 90 stranded passengers, 5 hrs delay, chaos, people crying.”

Running out of tools with which to hit the Iranian government, the U.S. is increasingly hurting innocent Iranians with these “tough” new sanctions ostensibly aimed at the government.  The Iranian people bear the brunt of sanctions on Iran’s civilian aviation industry, not its leaders.  Iran’s supreme leader hasn’t traveled outside Iran in over two decades, so he probably isn’t too concerned.  It’s ordinary people who are dying in airplane crashes and being stranded at airports.  So let’s not have any illusions about who these measures are targeting when the Foreign Affairs Committee votes tomorrow on whether to strip the President’s authority to help stop so many people from dying in airplane crashes.

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