The European Union has reimposed sanctions on Syria's Cham Wings Airlines (SAW, Damascus) for its alleged support for the regime of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. The privately-owned carrier was previously designated by the bloc between December 2021 and July 2022 for its alleged role in a migrant-smuggling scheme orchestrated by various governments hostile to the EU.

"Cham Wings uses its flights to engage in the transfer of Syrian mercenaries, arms trade, narcotics trafficking, and money laundering, which supports the activities of the Syrian regime. As the only private airline in Syria, Cham Wings is therefore benefiting from, and providing support to the Syrian regime," the EU said in its January 24, 2024, sanctions list update.

While the carrier was sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control in 2016 for its ties to the Syrian government, the EU adopted a markedly softer approach only sanctioning it in December 2021, after it operated a number of charter flights to Minsk National, allegedly carrying migrants who were then transported by the Belarussian regime to the Lithuanian and Polish frontiers thus orchestrating a humanitarian crisis.

Cham Wings denied knowingly participating in any such scheme and maintained its flights were purely commercial, adding that it had no power over who its passengers were. The airline was removed from the EU sanctions list in mid-2022 and even hoped to obtain an EU Third Country Operator (TCO) permit to launch scheduled flights to the bloc.

The Syrian airline remains under US and Ukrainian sanctions but is not designated by the United Kingdom.

The ch-aviation fleets module shows Cham Wings Airlines operating three A320-200s. It recently took delivery of a fourth, YK-BAA (msn 2434), transferred at Minsk airport from UAE-based start-up Queens Air. The opaque firm added the aircraft in November 27, 2023, registering it in Kyrgyzstan as EX-32012. It was ferried from Minsk to Damascus on February 7, 2024, ADS-B data shows. The flight, operated under Cham Wings' 'SAW' code, was routed via Russia and bypassing Turkish airspace.

Cham Wings Airlines did not respond to ch-aviation's request for comment. It serves various destinations across the Middle East, Libya, and Iran.