German foreign minister’s ageing plane halted by fault in UAE en route to Australia

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Berlin: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was stranded in Abu Dhabi for more than 18 hours on Monday en route to Australia after a technical fault on her government Airbus A340-300 forced the pilot to return to the United Arab Emirates capital after a refuelling stop.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Annalena Baerbock in front of a German government plane.Credit: AP

A malfunction meant the wing flaps on the aircraft — which is more than two decades old and has a history of mechanical problems — could not be retracted correctly and the plane had to jettison fuel before it was light enough to land safely back in Abu Dhabi, the German air force said in a tweet.

German news agency DPA reported that around 80 tons of kerosene was dumped.

Flight tracking website showed the aircraft taking off from Abu Dhabi at 3.33am local time and circling for almost 2 hours before landing again at 5.33am. The plane, registered as 16+01, flew for 12 years with Deutsche Lufthansa AG before it was acquired by the German air force for VIP transport.

It was not clear when Baerbock, who has a number of appointments in Canberra on Tuesday, would be able to continue her journey, either on the government plane or a commercial flight. As of 4.50pm in Berlin, the minister was still on the ground in Abu Dhabi, according to a foreign ministry spokeswoman.

Baerbock’s aircraft is the same one that was forced to turn back to Cologne with former Chancellor Angela Merkel on board on her way to a Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires in late 2018. Current Chancellor Olaf Scholz, finance minister and vice chancellor at the time, was also on the flight, which was aborted due to an issue with the plane’s electronics systems.

Just weeks earlier, Scholz was delayed in returning from Bali, Indonesia, when damage to wiring inflicted by rodents incapacitated the aircraft.

The German government is phasing out the ageing, four-engine A340s and replacing them with advanced and fuel-efficient A350 twin-jets. The Luftwaffe, which operates the aircraft, has taken delivery of two of three A350s from Lufthansa Technik AG, which fitted out the interiors of the planes.


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