Today the Office of Foreign Assets Control cryptically announced a change in its FAQs relating to foreign aircraft that overfly or make emergency landings in Iran. The agency merely stated that it had revised FAQ 417 without describing the difference between the old and new FAQ or why the change was made. Of course, you might assume that OFAC wanted to make it clear that if your plane was about to fall out of the sky it was okay to make an unscheduled landing in Iran — passenger safety, and all that. But you would be wrong.
The old FAQ, which you can find here, said that non-U.S. airlines could overfly Iran and make emergency landings there as long as no payments were made to or through any of the specifically designated banks in Iran (like Bank Melli) or any entities on the SDN list (other than, of course, agencies and instrumentalities of the Iranian government). The new FAQ, however, adds a new wrinkle: the payments now cannot involve the U.S. financial system if a foreign carrier is involved; the U.S. financial system may only be used for U.S. carriers, which, under 31 C.F.R. § 560.522, are permitted to overfly and make emergency landings in Iran.
This policy change comes on the heels of news reports (like this one and this one) that foreign carrier overflights over Iran have recently increased. Why? Because no one wants to get blown out of the sky while flying over Iraq or Ukraine. Both Air France and Virgin Atlantic have suspended flights over Iraq.
Of course, you may say, certainly foreign carriers can find non-U.S. financial institutions to handle the payments to Iran. That, of course, may be the case, although given all the recent huge fine on foreign banks for Iran transactions, many of these banks may simply be unwilling to run the risk of further penalties given the small amounts they are likely to make handling these payments.