Update: 21:50 GMT: These passengers will now spend the night in Shiraz, and travel tomorrow, 15 December, on the rescue 737 aircraft which arrived earlier this evening.
Much like many brand new commercial aircraft, Boeing’s 737 Max’s entry-into-service hasn’t been the smoothest — and the latest incident (in what is a string of 737 Max related events) took place earlier this morning, with a brand new Norwegian Air jet.
Flying from Dubai (DXB) to Oslo (OSL), Norwegian Air’s two-month-old Boeing 737 MAX 8 encountered engine trouble, and following around 20 minutes of flying at its cruising altitude of 32,000ft…the newly built American jet initiated an emergency descent to Shiraz International Airport, located in south-central Iran.
Before its landing, the aircraft circulated several times over the region, after flight crew closed down Engine #1 due to an ‘engine oil-associated’ fault on the brand-new jet.
The emergency-landing into Shiraz is both the first time Norwegian Air has ever landed in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and also the first time a brand new, Western-operated U.S. built Boeing 737 Max 8 has ever touched down in the country — a country currently under severe, reinstated economic sanctions, imposed by President Trump’s administration in Washington D.C.
For Norwegian Air, Iran is far from an ideal diversion point, but given the nature of this emergency — it was necessary.
Norwegian has very little Middle Eastern exposure (in terms of destinations) and for an airline unfamiliar with Iranian laws, there are logistical and cultural complications when 737 MAX 8 full of passengers touches down as an unscheduled arrival.
Iranian law states all women must wear headscarves (in order to cover hair) — and this also applies to uniformed cabin crew. On scheduled foreign airlines flights to Iran, cabin crew typically cover their hair with a headscarf during the descent towards an Iranian airport, and announcements are made to passengers informing female passengers of the Iranian law.
Back when British Airways operated flights between London Heathrow and Tehran, cabin crew had to wear winter jackets with hoods (even in summer), as BA didn’t want to invest in headscarves.
On today’s diverted Norwegian Air 737 MAX 8, passengers and crew are being kept in a dedicated area (airside) of Shiraz International Airport terminal, given female passengers and crew are not able to adhere to Iranian law, with regards to the headscarves.
While the passengers have been on the ground for most of the day, a Norwegian Air rescue aircraft is currently on its way to Shiraz, to pick up the stranded passengers.
With regards to the Norwegian Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft which is currently stuck in Shiraz with a faulty engine — fixing the jet will likely have added complications, given the location of this diversion.
Sanctions have left all of Iran’s 14 registered commercial airlines operating an ageing, fragile fleet of passenger jets, and while flying on an older aircraft in the majority of the rest of the world is perfectly safe – (given constant maintenance, cockpit software updates, structural upgrades, etc) – in Iran, just being able to obtain spare parts is incredibly difficult – and now, illegal.
With American sanctions against Iran reinstated last month, US-manufactured content cannot legally be imported into the Islamic Republic — hence why Airbus and Boeing aircraft deals with Iran worth $38 billion had to be scrapped earlier this year.
Importing spare parts for existing Airbus and Boeing aircraft in Iran is now forbidden, as anything with 10% or more US technology content requires US licences.
Can Boeing send a spare part to Iran? Current U.S. sanction terms state that “Specific licenses may be issued on a case-by-case basis for the exportation or reexportation of goods, services, and technology to ensure the safety of civil aviation and safe operation of U.S.-origin commercial passenger aircraft” — a policy that may have to be exercised.
To add to the complexity of this specific situation, the passengers have now officially entered Iran, meaning many may no longer be eligible to travel to the U.S. under the visa-waiver program which Europeans are eligible for.
In addition to this, there are passengers on this flight who are ticketed: Dubai-Oslo-New York — which again, could prove complicated, given America’s harsh sanctions on to Iran, which include travel to/from the Islamic Republic.
Boeing’s 737 Max 8 is headline news elsewhere, as Indonesia’s Lion Air prepares to cancel its existing orders for the jets, following Lion Air’s ‘anger’ at Boeing’s response to the Lion Air 737 Max 8 crash that killed 189 people in October. Lion Air claims the U.S. planemaker unfairly implicated Lion Air in the deadly crash.
If indeed this stranded aircraft does require a spare part, it will (theoretically) need special permission from the U.S. for a legal import to Iran — something that hasn’t happened during Trump’s administration, and since the return of the sanctions.
There are no established maintenance facilities in Shiraz, or nearby, that are licensed to work on a Boeing 737 Max 8 — and this is likely to add to the difficulty.
For now, the newly-built American jet is to remain on the tarmac in Iran.
Norwegian Air has provided a statement:
“Due to a technical issue, the flight from Dubai to Oslo diverted to Shiraz International Airport. The aircraft landed normally and taxied to a gate allowing passengers to disembark. The safety of our passengers and crew is always our number one priority. Passengers are being looked after by airport staff. Norwegian has sent a relief aircraft to Shiraz International Airport to allow passengers to continue their journey to Oslo as soon as possible. We would like to apologise for any inconvenience that this delay may have caused.”