On April 21st, a TUI Boeing 737 MAX 8 on its way to Dubai from Brussels diverted to Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar. The aircraft appeared to enter a holding pattern for 40 minutes, with sources report that the aircraft issued a call via squawk code 7700 only after it had spent some time in the holding pattern. Squawking 7700 indicates that an emergency situation is taking place and assistance is required. The aircraft landed at 21:07 local time in Doha and has since carried on to Dubai and returned to Brussels.
The TUI 737 MAX registered OO-TMY departed Brussels at 12:19 local time on April 21st and headed southeast towards Minhad Air Base in Dubai – a military airport. The aircraft was nearing Dubai when it entered into a holding pattern over the waters of the Arabian Gulf, some 80km (50 miles) from Dubai and around 200km (124 miles) from Doha.
Dutch aviation site Up In The Sky reports that the jet circled for some time before putting out an emergency call via squawk code 7700. Next, the aircraft headed towards Doha, where it performed a safe landing some 70 minutes after entering the holding pattern.
Landing at 21:07 local time, the jet left Doha at 00:33 and landed at Al Minhad Air Base at 02:18 local. The aircraft then departed for home base in Brussels 01:13 this morning.
Why the flight to an airbase in Dubai?
First, let’s address why the aircraft, operated by a carrier that typically markets itself as a leisure airline, was headed towards a Middle Eastern military airbase. While we don’t yet have firm confirmation from the airline, the December 2020 news that TUI would be operating charter flights for Belgian Defence forces is almost certainly what was happening with this incident flight.
Belgium has announced its withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan will take place this year. The UAE’s Al Minhad (MND) has had a supporting role for foreign troops arriving in the region, including those from Australia and Canada.
Aviation24.be noted at the time that the Belgian Air Force had returned an Airbus A321 to its lessor, HiFly. Airbus A400M military transports would have taken the place of the A321s. These are based in Melsbroek airbase. A330MRTTs from NATO’s Multinational Multirole Unit at Eindhoven airbase would have also flown some of these missions.
However, delays in the delivery of these aircraft combined with delays in certifying pilots had forced Belgian Defence to seek out the services of TUI to perform charter flights. The organization told Aviation24.be the following:
“To guarantee the continuity of our operations and exercises, Belgian Defence will partially use charter flights in 2021 and 2022. Around twenty flights which will take place in January and February 2021 will be carried out by TUI“,
What was the reason for diverting to Doha?
While we’ve inquired with TUI about the incident, we have yet to receive a response from the airline. There are some interesting aspects to this incident, as you may have already picked up on:
- The aircraft was closer to its destination, Al Minhad Air Base than it was to the diversion airport of Doha.
- Reporting indicates that the squawk 7700 call was only made after it had been circling for some time.
It’s these two factors that lead us to think that the holding pattern had to do with communicating with Al Minhad; perhaps there was trouble establishing communications or receiving clearance to land from the Emirati government. Perhaps, after multiple attempts to gain permission to land, the aircraft was running low on fuel and thus needed to issue a the squawk 7700 to indicate an urgent situation, with Doha responding first.
It’s also quite interesting that the aircraft didn’t land at any of the numerous UAE airports that were much closer- including Dubai International, Dubai World Central (Al Maktoum International), Sharjah, or even Abu Dhabi.
While we would love to find out more about this situation- operational details that have to do with the military may not be as forthcoming, especially when compared to regular commercial passenger flights.
What do you think happened in this case? Let us know in the comments.
Covid Crisis Decimates Indian Airline Seat Capacities
As the second wave continues to spread, airlines have sharply cut their seat capacities. The move comes as domestic flights see fewer passengers and India remains banned by countries globally. Let’s find out more about the impact of the second wave on airlines.
According to an OAG report, seen in the Times of India, India has slashed the number of monthly seats on sale. For May 2021, airlines in South Asia have cut capacity by a massive 15.1%, or 2.4 million seats. This drop has been due to reduced domestic demand and international traffic all but gone due to travel bans.
Data shows that daily domestic passengers fell below 100,000 for the first time in over six months. Sunday (May 9th) saw just 87,372 travelers take to the skies across India, the lowest point since last August, just months after domestic flights resumed. Airlines, in kind, have reduced their flying schedules and frequencies across once-popular routings.
Internationally, the situation is even worse. Travel from India has been restricted by every major market, such as the US, UK, EU, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, and dozens of others. This has deeply impacted carriers like Air India, for whom long-haul flying is crucial, and further reduced available seat capacity.
Unlike the first wave, some aviation markets around the world are actually beginning their recovery thanks to vaccine campaigns and falling caseloads. US carriers dominate the top 10 list of biggest airlines (with five spots on the list), while China comes in second (with four spots on the list). Traffic in Europe is also expected to pick up in the coming months as borders reopen.
Meanwhile, IndiGo has slipped from being the 6th biggest airline in the world to the 10th by flights operated in May. The low-cost giant cut flights by 25% due to the second wave and only operated 26,060 flights. This figure will likely continue to fall until cases in India see a substantial drop, which could take weeks, if not more.
Other carriers have been struggling even more, forcing them to defer salaries and decimate capacity. As the financial impact of COVID-19 grows, airlines will have no choice but to cut costs in the near future, which includes reducing employee and operational costs.
Perhaps the most disconcerting about the aviation industry’s woes is how quickly the situation has changed. Just two months ago, Indian airlines were on a high, getting nearer to pre-pandemic levels every day. International services were also slowly resuming, as countries planned to reopen their borders to Indian tourists.
However, the second wave has erased any gains made by the aviation industry over the last year. More importantly, the healthcare infrastructure and critical supplies have been dwindling, forcing India to import emergency oxygen and fly in other supplies. For now, aviation seems unlikely to recover in the short term.
What do you think about the impact of India’s second wave? How long will airlines take to recover? Let us know in the comments!
Air Canada cancels flight to Israel amid fighting
An Air Canada flight makes its final approach as it lands in Ottawa on July 3, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
CP24.com, Staff | Wednesday, May 12, 2021
Air Canada has cancelled a flight that was scheduled to depart for Israel on Tuesday amid violence in the region and says it is monitoring the situation to determine any further changes to its flight schedule.
The flight had already been delayed for 24 hours and the airline said Wednesday it has now been cancelled, along with a flight that was set to return from the country today.
Another flight is scheduled to depart from Toronto over the weekend, however Air Canada said that it will “continue to monitor events and will adjust our schedule further if warranted.”
Militants have rained down hundreds of rockets into Israel over the past few days, including some fired toward the main airport in Tel-Aviv, while the Israeli military has carried out airstrikes in Gaza.
American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have also cancelled or suspended some flights into the country amid the fighting.
Air Canada said affected customers have been notified and a goodwill policy will be offered to them.
With files from AP
Qantas ground staff blindsided by COVID passenger, say reports
Qantas ground staff at Brisbane Airport were reportedly blindsided by the news that a COVID-positive passenger from Papua New Guinea was about to land last week, according to reports.
The Courier Mail claimed employees involved felt that they were “put at risk”, particularly as aviation workers are yet to be prioritised in the current vaccine rollout in the same way as quarantine and border workers.
However, Qantas downplayed the story, saying that “there are a number of strict procedures in place for managing aircraft arriving from overseas” and adding that the ground staff in question “followed all procedures”.
Speaking with the Courier Mail, the staff involved called the incident “an absolute cock-up”, after they were informed 30 minutes prior to landing that an incoming flight, Air Niugini flight PX003, had a passenger onboard who tested positive for COVID-19 before boarding.
“No one could believe it,” the employee told the Newscorp publication, “We were put at risk, with no explanation of how an infected passenger flight could have been allowed to land.”
Despite his positive COVID test results, the man had an exemption letter allowing him to travel to Australia.
The source said that staff were already wearing gloves and masks at the arrivals gate, and were then told to “open the [aircraft’s] door and run” back to the terminal.
The Courier Mail confirmed that a Qantas supervisor did instruct staff to open the aircraft’s doors and return to the terminal to reduce any risk of transmission, as is standard procedure for international arrivals during the pandemic.
“The last we saw of the COVID passenger, he was sitting on the floor of the arrivals concourse looking very, very unwell, with officials from border force, quarantine and Queensland Health flapping about him,” the staffer said.
“We’ve been kept in the dark, and are extremely concerned because this thing spreads like wildfire.”
Later, Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young confirmed that Australian authorities were aware that the man had tested positive for COVID-19, however were confident that he was not infectious and was instead shedding the virus.
“This gentleman was a fully recovered case, he was a historical case,” she said.
“And that was why he was given permission by Australian Border Force to travel to Australia.”
A spokesperson for Air Niugini confirmed the passenger was initially scheduled to fly from Port Moresby to Brisbane on 6 May, however was “denied uplift as his paperwork was not in order”, due to his positive test result.
He returned to the airport the following day, 7 May, with the appropriate paperwork that allowed him to fly despite the positive result.
“The passenger had previously been diagnosed with Covid-19 and had undergone 14 days’ quarantine as per normal procedures,” the spokesperson said.
“After that he kept getting positive results. He received a doctor’s certificate advising he was considered non-infectious, and that he had been symptom free in the previous 72 hours.
“Air Niugini had been in touch with the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby in relation to this case and they in turn liaised with the Australian Border Force which approved the uplift.
“There were questions upon the passenger’s arrival into Brisbane as to the correct processes to follow, but we understand they have now been identified and addressed.”
According to the Courier Mail, the passenger in question is an Australian passport holder.
A spokesman from the Australian Border Force said: “There are a number of categories in which the traveller is automatically exempt from the travel restrictions and can enter Australia (without obtaining an individual exemption), including if they are an Australian citizen,” he said.
“Quarantine arrangements are a matter for each state and territory.”
Peter Biagini, QLD Branch Secretary for the Transport Workers Union (TWU), stated the incident highlights the high-risk environment that aviation frontline workers face each day.
“Aviation workers are on the frontline and are at a high risk of interacting with positive COVID cases,” he said.
“So far the Federal Government has refused to prioritise aviation workers in the vaccine rollout, leaving workers vulnerable when situations like this arise.”
“While this passenger had an exemption, the fact remains that aviation workers were potentially in contact with a positive case, and despite PPE precautions we know that this is a very contagious virus that can spread very quickly,” Biagini added.
“This virus is primarily appearing from flights coming to Australia, and we need to ensure that the workers who are interacting with international flights are protected.”
Rex Has No Plans To Retire The Saab 340
Rex’s new Boeing 737 between Australia’s big cities have grabbed the headlines lately. But the airline’s core business is regional flying to small towns. Rex’s turboprops link the country to the city and are a familiar sight at Australian airports. But those turboprops are not getting any younger. Nonetheless, it seems like Rex will stick with them for a while yet.
Rex’s fleet of 60 Saab 340 planes have an average age of over 26 years. But according to Rex’s Deputy Chairman John Sharp, the Saabs have a lot of life left in them yet.
“They are the most brilliant aircraft,” Mr Sharp told a CAPA Live event on Wednesday. “They are very cost-effective. They are very strong, robust aircraft, and they will put up with a lot.”
Rex’s Saab 340s provide a vital service
Rex’s Saabs fly into big airports like Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth. But of the 60 plus airports Rex flies to, most are fairly quiet airstrips that only see a few commercial flights a day. Or sometimes, only a few commercial flights a week. Rex fills its Saabs with city-based professionals, public servants, and medicos heading out to the country for some fly-in-fly-out work. In the other direction, country residents head to the city on Rex for appointments and medical matters.
These flights crisscross the country and provide a vital public transport service. But many passengers say the Saabs are old, noisy, and like taking a bus. There has been speculation for several years about Rex replacing its Saabs.
Rex signed an MOU with ATR in 2020 to investigate fleet renewal
In mid-2020, Rex and ATR signed a memorandum of understanding regarding renewing and complementing Rex’s fleet of Saab 340s.
“We are delighted to be able to cooperate with such a great and well-proven company as Rex,” said ATR’s Fabrice Vautier at the time. “It is vital that communities and businesses can continue to prosper thanks to regional routes, and we believe ATR aircraft range provides a sustainable and dependable transportation system to airlines and the regions that they serve.”
But it is quite a leap from a 34 seat Saab 340 to an ATR 72-600 that comfortably seats double that number. While an ATR 72-600 might work nicely on some of Rex’s busier regional routes – say to Port Lincoln or Port Macquarie, it is much too big for many of Rex’s thinner regional routes.
Nothing wrong with the Saab 340, says Rex’s Deputy Chairman
According to John Sharp, Rex’s Saabs may be old, but there is nothing wrong with them, and he doesn’t see them leaving the fleet for some time.
“They are brilliant for regional flights, flights from one to two hours, they’re really good at that. We’re good at maintaining and operating them. Theoretically, we could go another 10 to 15 years with the Saabs because they’ve got enough life left in them.
“Like all these things, it will come down to the cost of maintaining them versus the cost of buying new ones. The second part will be demand. If we actually find these routes grow so much that we need to put on larger aircraft, then we will.
“The Saab offers small, cost-effective flights that give frequency and frequency gives convenience and convenience brings more passengers.”
Judging John Sharp’s comments, the Saabs aren’t going anywhere for a while. While fleet renewal is inevitable, it doesn’t appear to be a short to medium-term priority at Rex. With more Boeing 737-800s coming into the fleet, the Deputy Chairman suggests they could use them on some flights on some busier regional routes in the future. But for most of Rex’s country-based passengers, the Saab 340 will be flying them for some years to come.
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