Iran has threatened to take legal action if the United States tries to prevent its newly acquired passenger planes from flying international routes, the head of the nation's aviation authority said on Tuesday.
Iran's state airline, Mahan Air, is blacklisted by Washington. Yet in May it bought eight used Airbus A340s and one Airbus A321 in defiance of U.S. sanctions. Iran's semi-official Fars news agency reported last week that Mahan Air intended to use them on international routes.
The U.S. Treasury department ruled last month that Mahan Air had a "blockable interest" in the planes, which means they would be subject to an asset freeze. This means that Washington may attempt to have them confiscated at airports outside Iran.
"As long as a disruption has not taken place, we cannot make a definite assertion. But if it happens, Iran will take legal action," said the head of Iran's Civil Aviation Organization, Alireza Jahangirian.
"America does not have the right to stop our planes on international trips. Under international laws, it is impossible to seize the new Iranian aircraft."
In addition to Mahan Air itself, the U.S. Treasury department has imposed sanctions on two firms in Iraq and the United Arab Emirates for assisting with the purchase.
Iran expects the new planes to join its aviation fleet "in the coming weeks", once their documentation has come through.
News agency Fars, possibly floating a trial balloon on behalf of the government, reported that the four-engined A340s would start flying from Tehran to Dubai and Istanbul. It would later use them on long-haul routes, though it did not elaborate which, possibly for fear of U.S. interdiction.
Iran needs to fly the four engine A340 because the country lacks the approvals needed to fly two-engined aircraft on long-haul routes to developed countries, following years of isolation in the global aviation market.
Developed countries require well documented safety records and aircraft paperwork in order to fly over their airspace. Iran is currently banned from doing so when flying two engined planes.
Sanctions for its nuclear program, leveled by the United State, European Union and others ban the sale of aircraft and parts to Iran.
As a result of the sanctions and old aircraft, Iran's airlines have one of the worst safety records in the world. Its 189 active passenger aircraft have an average age of 22 years.