BBC News accused Turkey of allowing Iranian Mahan Airlines to flight to Turkey despite Turkey’s travel ban with Iran. In reality, only empty planes coming from Iran were allowed to take back Iranian citizens in Turkey.
The investigation is based on the flight tracking data of Iranian Mahan Airlines. Based on the flight trafficking data, the BBC crew concluded that Turkey, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates and Thailand resumed flights with Iran’s flag carrier Mahan Airlines despite announcing travel bans with Iran. The country has been an early epicentre for the coronavirus pandemic after the virus first appeared in China. For this reason, several countries announced travel bans to and from Iran during February and March.
The BBC states Iranian Mahan Airlines flied to Turkey 19 times after the travel ban had been put in place, and suggested that the alleged violation of these bans contributed to the spread of the coronavirus around the world.
Yet, the deduction that Turkey violated its own ban based on the flight tracking data is not accurate. Turkey indeed shut its border and suspended flights with Iran on February 23. However, in the ban itself, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) of Turkey stated: “Iranian carriers will be allowed to transport passengers from Turkey to Iran with the condition of coming without any passengers. Turkish passengers will not be carried on these flights.”
Therefore, this was not a covert flight violating Turkey’s own ban, but it was the empty planes which came to pick up the Iranian citizens in Turkey, but the detailed investigative report is missing this fact. Actually, Turkey allowed this exception for all countries that it suspended flights with, including the United Kingdom. Turkey suspended flights with the United Kingdom, but again allowed the British carriers to land on Turkish soil with the conditions of planes to come without passengers and only take back non-Turkish passengers wishing to return back to the UK.
On the other hand, although BBC News wrongfully accused Turkey of violating its own flight ban, the United Kingdom itself has not even taken such a measure. On March 22, The Times reported that flights from China, Italy and Iran was still landing in the UK, bringing passengers. Both countries were the epicentres of the pandemic in that period. Only on March 26, the UK Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that the UK government “considers” a flight ban with Iran due to the concerns of the coronavirus outbreak. By this date, Turkey was putting the flight ban with Iran in effect for more than a month.