What forced ‘unmarked’ Ethiopian passenger flight to lodge in Dar Es Salaam grass?

19 Dec

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory
Source: Wolfgang Thomeä’s Blog

Whatever the exact circumstances were yesterday, when Ethiopian Airline’s flight ET 815 landed at the Arusha Municipal Airport instead of flying to an authorized diversion airport like Dar es Salaam or Nairobi, passengers and crew escaped only narrowly a catastrophe as the B767-300ER overshot the runway and eventually came to a halt stuck in the soft ground beyond.

The unfolding air accident investigation will no doubt eventually shed light on this most serious miscalculation, only aggravated by the nonchalant statement of the airline that the plane landed ‘at an alternate airport’ which shows the level of sheer incompetence of those who issued the statement as ARK, how it is known under the IATA three letter code, is entirely unfit to receive such planes nor has the equipment to handle wide body jets.

Why the proper alternate airports NBO or DAR were not used will soon be known but if, as some sources suggested, fuel was an issue the airline would have some serious explaining to do.

On the grass at Dar airport (Credit: Richard Bodin, via Wolfgang Thome's Blong)

On the grass at Dar airport (Credit: Richard Bodin, via Wolfgang Thome’s Blong)

These pictures, provided by FastJet’s COO Richard Bodin, show the plane lodged in the grass beyond the runway, giving all the visual explanation readers need, to know what has happened and to put the nondescript if not outright misleading statement from Ethiopian Airlines into the right perspective. Notably does the aircraft, as seen on the pictures, not have an Ethiopian Airlines livery painted on the hull, other than the visible registration ET-AQW.

The result for regular users of Arusha’s municipal airport is now such that all scheduled flights by Precision Air have been shifted to the rather more distant Kilimanjaro International Airport, while charter operations to and from the national parks too must now use the main international airport which is over 50 kilometres out of town, adding extra cost and causing the loss of valuable time to tourists and business travellers. It is not known for how long the ARK closure will continue as the plane first needs to undergo inspection to ascertain that there is no damage to the gear, which has been put under great strain when entering the soft ground, nor how this type of aircraft will be able to take off from Arusha, considering the runway is only 1.620 metres long, generally thought to be too short for a B767-300ER to take off from. Manufacturers’ sources put the minimum takeoff length of a runway for this aircraft type to around 6.000 feet, leaving the Arusha runway short by nearly 700 feet. This means that at the very least the plane would have to be stripped of much of the equipment on board and take off with minimum fuel to reach JRO, where the aircraft would then have to be re-fitted with the parts taken out to reduce weight.

Experts are also already questioning if the landing has caused any damage to the Arusha runway, which is patently not built to cater for such weights, leaving Ethiopian and their insurers exposed to yet greater claims, should major repair works become necessary.

All in all, again kudos to the crew for their flying skills, but time will tell what led to this situation and who was ultimately responsible for taking this bird into an airport which was never meant to receive a B767-300ER.

Comment received by a passenger on Wolfgang H. Thome’s Blog:

    “I was on it. We thought we were coming into Kilimanjaro for the landing, what seemed to be bad turbulence and surging on and off of the engines while still at altitude, very rough landing, pulled up metres short of the runway onto the grass. We were told very little, crew were not in control of the situation following landing. Stuck in the plane for 3.5 hrs because they were bringing stairs for disembarkment from Kilimanjaro. Eventually opened the emergency slide after much discontent in board. Crew were poor, but all thanks to the pilots for getting us down under the conditions. No injuries. Plane was unmarked (ie, no Ethiopian emblems), people had seat allocations for seats not even existent on that particular plane, told to wait to find an alternative seat once the plane was fully boarded. Fingers crossed for the next flight. Again, all credit to the pilots. Sorry for the long update!”


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