Source: Gerjon’s Aircraft Finds
In the first months of 2022, dozens of western civilian and military cargo aircraft delivered aid for Ukraine to Ukrainian airports. However, it‘s not just Ukraine that is receiving uncommon foreign cargo flights: Russia is too. In the three months following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at least 23 Iranian cargo flights flew from Iran to Moscow. In this blog post, I will first shortly summarize the Western Airlift to Ukraine. Afterwards, I will show how three cargo aircraft from Iran regularly visit airports around Moscow. I will also provide further background information about these aircraft and provide visual evidence for their visits.
Foreign cargo flights for both Russia and Ukraine
In the past months, dozens (if not hundreds) of military flights landed at Rzeszów-Jasionka Airport in Poland, delivering military aid to Ukraine following the invasion by Russia on 24 Feb 2022. In fact, the military airlift already started already before the invasion. For example, on 13 Feb 2022 I identified a total of 43 cargo flights into Ukraine over January and February 2022. Following the invasion, I have shown that Antonov Airlines Antonov An-124 aircraft flew to Rzeszów-Jasionka Airport 18 times in March 2022 and 13 times in April 2022.
Gerjon | חריון | غريون | ኼርዮን @Gerjon_Updated list of military cargo flights to 🇺🇦Ukraine since 15 Jan 2022: I identified 43 flights in total. New to the list are two flights by NATO SAC C-17A Globemaster III cargo aircraft from 🇱🇹Siauliai, Lithuania to 🇺🇦Kyiv Boryspil in Ukraine. [THREAD 1/4] February 13th 2022240 Retweets524 Likes
The Iranian airlines flying to Russia
Back in 2021, I reported how two Iranian airlines were flying to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, likely supporting its civil war around the Tigray province. At the time, I identified a total of fourteen such flights. Using satellite imagery, I proved how at least one of these flights visited Ethiopian Air Force Base Harar Meda, shown below.
Gerjon | חריון | غريون | ኼርዮን @Gerjon_New blog post! I previously uncovered cargo flights from 🇮🇷Iran to 🇪🇹Ethiopia. However, evidence for “Pouya Air” 🇮🇷EP-PUS’ flights to 🇪🇹Harar Meda Airport remained sparse. This blog presents additional evidence: a VHR satellite image taken 05 Nov 2021. gerjon.substack.com/p/iranian-carg…
In tweets and blog posts I identified the main participants of Iran’s airlift to Ethiopia: “Pouya Air” Ilyushin Il-76TD reg. EP-PUS and “Qeshm Fars Air” Boeing 747-200 reg. EP-FAA. The same two very aircraft are now regularly visiting Moscow following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Summarizing the blog post below: Both airlines operate a very small fleet of one or two active heavy cargo aircraft. According to the United States Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), both airlines have a history of flying for IRGC-QF, the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force.
Gerjon’s Aircraft Finds
Over the past six months, I have frequently written about cargo aircraft from Turkey and especially the United Arab Emirates visiting Ethiopia’s largest and international airport, Addis Ababa Bole Airport, and the main base of the Ethiopian Air Force, Harar Meda Military Airport, which is located near the city of Bishoftu. Besides flights from these cou…
5 months ago · Gerjon
A third cargo airline operating on the Iran to Moscow route in the period following the Invasion is the cargo division of Iran’s Flag Carrier, Iran Air Cargo. The aircraft they operate to Moscow is EP-ICD. Registered PH-MCF, this Boeing 747-200C was first delivered to Martinair Holland back in 1988. Although the aircraft has side windows like a passenger aircraft, the aircraft has a full cargo configuration, making it one of the few Boeings 747 with a nose cargo door with windows.
23 Iranian cargo flights to Moscow
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 Feb 2022, I have found a total of 23 Iranian cargo flights into Russia, all of which went to Moscow. The following flights to Moscow were identified, listed in chronological order:
- “Iran Air Cargo” EP-ICD on 27 Mar 2022: IRA4705
- “Iran Air Cargo” EP-ICD on 01 Apr 2022: IRA4707
- “Pouya Air” EP-PUS on 11 Apr 2022
- “Pouya Air” EP-PUS on 14 Apr 2022
- “Qeshm Fars Air” EP-FAA on 15 Apr 2022
- “Pouya Air” EP-PUS on 16 Apr 2022
- “Qeshm Fars Air” EP-FAA on 19 Apr 2022: QFZ9958
- “Pouya Air” EP-PUS on 20 Apr 2022
- “Pouya Air” EP-PUS on 22 Apr 2022
- “Qeshm Fars Air” EP-FAA on 22 Apr 2022: QFZ9958
- “Qeshm Fars Air” EP-FAA on 25 Apr 2022
- “Qeshm Fars Air” EP-FAA on 28 Apr 2022
- “Iran Air Cargo” EP-ICD on 29 Apr 2022: IRA4701
- “Qeshm Fars Air” EP-FAA on 03 May 2022: QFZ9958
- “Qeshm Fars Air” EP-FAA on 06 May 2022
- “Iran Air Cargo” EP-ICD on 08 May 2022: IRA4701
- “Pouya Air” EP-PUS on 15 May 2022
- “Qeshm Fars Air” EP-FAA on 15 May 2022: QFZ9958
- “Iran Air Cargo” EP-ICD on 15 May 2022: IRA4701
- “Pouya Air” EP-PUS on 17 May 2022
- “Qeshm Fars Air” EP-FAA on 20 May 2022: QFZ9958
- “Pouya Air” EP-PUS on 22 May 2022
- “Pouya Air” EP-PUS on 24 May 2022
This list was generated by combining Flightradar24 and ADSBexchange data, the latter accessed through the Icarus Flights platform. For each flight I have added added a link to the specific flight on ADSBexchange.
All flights by “Pouya Air” EP-PUS went to Moscow Vnukovo Airport (VKO/UUWW), located west of Moscow. “Qeshm Fars Air” EP-FAA generally visits Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport (SVO/UUEE), located north of the city. However, at least one flight by “Qeshm Fars Air” EP-FAA (15 May 2022) seems to have gone to Vnukovo Airport instead. Like EP-FAA, also “Iran Air Cargo” EP-ICD flights visits Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport.
Because of MLAT tracking, it is not always clear which where these flights to Moscow come from or head to. One “Iran Air Cargo” flight (08 May 2022) clearly visited Yerevan in Armenia before continuing to Russia. Two “Qeshm Fars Air” flights (22 Apr 2022 and 20 May 2022, both using full ADS-B) came from Imam Khomeini Airport (IKA/OIIE) near Tehran. For the other flights, flight origin remains uncertain.
Given that Tehran is the home base of the aircraft, looking at available MLAT positions and knowing that Iranian cargo flights to Moscow tend to fly north out of Iran, across the Caspian Sea and Kazakhstan, turning west to Moscow when reaching the Russian border, it becomes clear that the flights most likely came from Iran. Tehran seems the most logical candidate.
One may wonder whether these flights are anything out of the ordinary. This raises the question: how often did these Iranian cargo aircraft visit Moscow in previous years? To get a quick overview of an aircraft’s whereabouts, I used Icarus Flights, a platform developed by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS) that uses ADSBexchange aircraft tracking data. “Qeshm Fars Air” aircraft (EP-FAA and EP-FAB) were tracked visiting Moscow twice in 2021. Over the same period, “Pouya Air” aircraft visited Moscow once. “Iran Air Cargo” was not tracked visiting Moscow in 2021. This confirms that the 23 flights following the invasion are a clear increase compared to normal.
Beyond cargo aircraft, also Iranian passenger aircraft have been visiting Moscow. For example, a “Mahan Air” Boeing 747-400 passenger aircraft (EP-MEE) visited Moscow Vnukovo Airport on 17 May 2022. According to the description, this was an uncommon visit. Because some other flights may be regular flights that also took place before the war, I have chosen not to include further Iranian passenger flights in this post.
Because of long-term western sanctions against Iran, Iranian cargo aircraft are generally old and rare models. Therefore they are high on the wishlist of planespotters around the globe. As a result, cameras follow them wherever they go, making it relatively easy to find pictures of them. All three aircraft (EP-FAA, EP-PUS and EP-ICD) were regularly spotted by planespotters at Moscow Sheremetyevo and Moscow Vnukovo Airport over the past months. Some examples are shown below.
Gerjon | חריון | غريون | ኼርዮን @Gerjon_Nikita Arsyukov’s Instagram picture shows IRGC-affiliated, OFAC-sanctioned Qeshm Fars Air Boeing 747-200 🇮🇷EP-FAA on ground at 🇷🇺Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, posted 28 Apr. 🇮🇷Iran is said to have been supplying 🇷🇺Russia with weaponry in recent weeks. instagram.com/p/Cc5orCYszsG/
Gerjon | חריון | غريون | ኼርዮን @Gerjon_Update: I had missed that fellow Iranian cargo aircraft “Qeshm Fars Air” 🇮🇷EP-FAA has been visiting 🇷🇺Moscow too, on 15 and 20 Apr 2022. Both airlines have been linked to IRGC activity and are thus sanctioned by 🇺🇲OFAC. https://t.co/kPLvqWFMDN https://t.co/UX8E6wkV3v
Gerjon | חריון | غريون | ኼርዮን @Gerjon_More visual evidence for Iran’s “Pouya Air” Ilyushin Il-76TD reg. 🇮🇷EP-PUS visiting 🇷🇺Moscow, Russia. This aircraft may be delivering military aid to 🇷🇺Russia. #1: aleksey_nsk24, 24 May 2022 #2-4: snphotos_avia, 23 May 2022 (I’ve got a blog post about these coming up!) Gerjon | חריון | غريون | ኼርዮን @Gerjon_🇮🇷Iranian, IRGC-affiliated cargo aircraft continue to visit 🇷🇺Moscow. This morning around 06:45 UTC, another shipment arrived to 🇷🇺Vnukovo Airport. Some people say these flights deliver military aid to the country that invaded Ukraine. “Pouya Air” Ilyushin Il-76TD reg. 🇮🇷EP-PUS https://t.co/1WFK2ydW44 https://t.co/qISGtN5asUMay 26th 2022
During the three months following the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, at least 23 Iranian cargo aircraft have landed at airports around Moscow, Russia. These flights have been regularly spotted by aircraft enthusiasts around Moscow, and their routes can be verified using aircraft tracking websites such as Flightradar24, ADSBexchange and Icarus Flights.
These 23 flights are a clear increase compared to 2021, suggesting that they are not carrying everyday Iranian or Russian exports. The timing of these flights could indicate that they are related to the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Needless to say, I will be keeping a close eye on these flights in the upcoming weeks and may come with a follow-up if Iranian flights to Moscow continue.