TEHRAN — A worried Iranian airline pilot asked passengers to start praying after his plane was hit by a technical glitch early on Thursday, highlighting once again the notorious record of Tehran's aircraft.

The Aseman Airlines Boeing plane had taken off from Tehran airport after a six-hour delay, but had to return following a technical fault, the ISNA news agency quoted a passenger as recounting.

"The plane took off at 0015 in the morning and had to land back in Tehran after 45 minutes," the passenger said.

"The pilot told the passengers 'the plane is facing a technical problem and has to return. So please pray.'"

Iran has been under years of international sanctions hampering its ability to buy modern planes from major manufacturers, such as Boeing and Airbus, or spare parts, and has suffered a number of air disasters over the past decade.

Its civil and military fleet is made up of ancient aircraft in very poor condition due to their age, and lack of maintenance.

In July it suffered one of its worst air disasters when a Caspian Airlines plane, a Russian Tupolev 154, crashed near Qazvin, northwest of Tehran, killing all 168 people on board.