**Update: 06/03/21 @ 10:11 UTC – The aircraft was last tracked at Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport; details below.**
A Boeing 737-300 operated by Fly Armenia vanished in Iran. The aircraft was supposed to be heading to Ukraine for maintenance ahead of its entry into service with the airline. It deviated from the planned flight path and declared an emergency over Iran.
Where did the 737 go?
On February 19th, a Boeing 737 operated by Fly Armenia left its storage in Tallinn, Estonia, to undergo maintenance ahead of entry into service. The 737-300, registered EK-FAA, departed Tallinn just after 08:00 GMT; its destination, according to Armenian authorities, should have been Hostomel in Ukraine, where it would be brought into shape and returned to the airline at a later date.
But the plane did not fly to Hostomel. Instead, it headed south to Varan, Bulgaria, where it landed at just after midday. That in itself is bizarre, given that Bulgaria, as well as Romania and the Baltic states through which the aircraft passed, are in the EU. The EU has banned Armenian aircraft from flying through its airspace since June last year.
Also bizarre is the lack of tracking data. Searching for the aircraft on various tracking websites under its registration brings up nothing. However, Plane Finder allows for searching via HEX code, a unique number relating to the tracker fitted inside the aircraft, which in this plane’s case is 600011. That shows its trip down to Bulgaria clearly tracked.
Only one subsequent flight is tracked by that HEX number. The following day, a plane with the same transponder left Bulgaria at 09:25 GMT, and flew southeast. A lack of ADB-S data coverage over Turkey meant it was only partially tracked, but the parts available show it was not headed for Hostomel, or to its home in Armenia.
The last little sliver of tracking data we have is that the plane entered Iranian airspace at around 11:43 GMT that day. The plane could not be tracked after that. However, a recent update shows that the plane has been sitting at Mehrabad International Airport.
Armenian authorities report a hijacking
On February 23rd, Armenpress reported that the Civil Aviation Committee of Armenia was contacted by its counterparts in the UAE and informed that the plane had been hijacked. However, other sources stated that there had been a problem in flight, and that the plane had landed in Tehran as an emergency.
A former government official, Hakob Tchagaryan, told the publication,
“The plane took off from Tallin, Estonia, and according to the flight plan it was to land in Yerevan. But instead, a decision was made mid-air to fly to the Emirates for technical maintenance. And due to technical problems, it landed in Tehran.”
While the reason for landing in Iran is unconfirmed, the plane has not taken off since. It is not even known for sure which airport it landed at. Both Mehrabad and Imam Khomeini are potential locations, but with limited tracking in that geography, the final destination is inconclusive.
A plane for Caspian Airlines?
Investigations are reportedly ongoing into where exactly this aircraft is and what has become of it. However, reports in PanARMENIAN.Net this week paint a different picture of the fate of the Boeing 737.
The publication states that analyst and expert on US foreign policy Suren Sargsyan claims the aircraft was sold or given to Iran deliberately. Sanctions on Iran prohibit it from purchasing aircraft with US-manufactured parts, making it difficult to obtain new metal for its airlines.
According to Scramble, Iranian media is reporting that a new Boeing 737-300 has arrived for Caspian Airlines, and will be joining the fleet very soon. This would make it less of an emergency or hijacking and more of a delivery flight. Further, the publication says that Fly Armenia’s second aircraft, a 737-400 registered EK-FAB, will also join Caspian Airlines’ fleet soon.
Interestingly, Fly Armenia has removed the 737-300 from its fleet list. The website currently only lists the 737-400 as its aircraft. The company was formed in 2019, but only received its operating license in July 2020. It acquired its first aircraft in November 2020, but has only undertaken cargo flights to Moscow due to the COVID situation.
If the aircraft’s ’emergency landing’ was indeed a means of getting a new plane into Iran, it wouldn’t be the first time something like this has happened. In 2015, a similar tactic was used to acquire a fleet of widebody aircraft for Mahan Air.
Four Airbus A340s were bought by Al-Naser Airlines in Iraq, and the airline decided to fly all of them to Kazakhstan for maintenance on the same day. All four A340s declared an emergency above Iran and landed in Tehran, subsequently joining the fleet of Mahan Air.
What do you think happened to Fly Armenia’s Boeing 737?