“‘Serious malfunction’ : merkel misses start of g20 summit due to breakdown on government plane

A technical defect forces the government plane with the chancellor on board on the way to the G20 to land. Air force rules out sabotage so far.

Expected to be a crisis solver, thwarted by a breakdown: Chancellor Angela Merkel may have been saved from worse only thanks to the skill of the flight captain after a serious technical defect in her government plane on the way to the G20 summit. "It was a serious malfunction," Merkel said after the incident and landing in Cologne/Bonn, Germany.

Instead of holding summit talks in Buenos Aires, she first had to spend the night in Bonn. The A340-300 aircraft, which had taken off from Berlin, had to turn back after about an hour’s flight over the Netherlands. The flight captain spoke of a technical problem that had caused the failure of some electrical systems.


The "Rheinische Post" reports, citing security circles, that the case was also "criminally" investigated being worked through. According to findings of the Air Force, however, the breakdown was not due to sabotage so far. "There is absolutely no indication of a criminal background," said a spokesman for the air force. It is believed to be a fault in an electronic distribution box that controls both the radio system and the system for dumping jet fuel. The satellite communication system, on the other hand, was hooked up to another distribution box. Merkel had spoken with Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) about the cancellation of the flight.

On Friday morning, Merkel had initially flown to Madrid from Cologne-Bonn airport. This is what the German government announced. Government circles had already announced that the chancellor would be accompanied from there by a "very small delegation" fly on to Buenos Aires on a scheduled flight.

Earlier, the organization of the scheduled flight from Madrid had proved complicated. Together with entourage and bodyguards had to provide space for more than a dozen people on board. Bilateral meetings planned for Friday on the sidelines of the summit, for example with U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, will not take place for the time being because of Merkel’s delayed arrival.

It was open whether the meetings could be made up during the G20 meeting, which is scheduled to last until Saturday. Merkel was represented on site by her summit sherpa Lars-Hendrik Roller and State Secretary for Finance Wolfgang Schmidt. Because of the glitch, Merkel also missed the traditional G20 "family photo" as well as important consultations among heads of state and government.

In Argentina, the question was raised how it could be that Germany, a technology country, had such massive problems maintaining a functioning government fleet. After all, this was not the first breakdown in recent times involving a German government aircraft. Adding to the astonishment were concerns about the summit’s progress, as Merkel has much to discuss in Buenos Aires amid a new Ukraine crisis and Trump’s trade conflicts.

"Spiegel": Complete failure of the communication system

In any case, Merkel’s flight was not aborted lightly. The situation was apparently serious. According to "Spiegel" information, the entire system for communication with the ground failed on board the "Konrad Adenauer". According to the magazine, such a complete failure of the communication system, which is backed up by several replacement systems, is considered a dangerous emergency in aviation. That’s why pilots would have immediately decided to abort the flight.

According to information from the Deutsche Presse-Agentur, large parts of an electronic system urgently needed for flight operations are also said to have failed. Kerosene was dumped over the Atlantic to reduce the weight of the Airbus, which was fully fueled for the long-haul flight. At times it was questionable whether an orderly landing would have been possible at all.

Der Spiegel" writes that only with the satellite phone on board did the crew manage to contact the flight control center and plan the landing at Cologne-Bonn airport. According to "Spiegel" information, the situation was so dicey that Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) was already informed after the complete failure of the radio system. According to dpa information, attempts were also made to find a solution with Lufthansa, but no alternative could be obtained at such short notice for an Atlantic flight that would have taken around 14 hours.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert initially declined to comment further on the defect. He asked for understanding, but technical details and error analysis would have to be explained by the Air Force and the Ministry of Defense. The chancellor praised the captain and crew, saying they had "a very, very excellent crew" and that "the most experienced captain in the air force" was in command.

When they arrived at about 20.00 a.m. was pulled out of a briefing with journalists by a member of the crew with the words "It’s important," Merkel said her first thought was that something might have happened in Germany. Asked Friday morning whether it was necessary to question the safety of aircraft after several incidents involving government planes, she replied, "A single incident should not make us change the system."

At Cologne/Bonn airport, several fire trucks awaited Merkel’s plane, which had a hard landing. The airport is the home base of government aircraft.

According to Seibert, Merkel’s husband Joachim Sauer will no longer accompany the chancellor to Buenos Aires, but will return to Berlin. Because of the delay in getting there, Sauer would miss too much of the partner program, Seibert said in explanation.

Aircraft of the German government cause problems again and again. As recently as mid-October, there was a major breakdown with the "Konrad Adenauer. Rodents had paralyzed the plane during a stop in Indonesia, forcing Scholz to make a more than 20-hour return trip by air from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) meeting via Hong Kong and Zurich. Mice or rats had gotten into the parked Airbus and nibbled on important cables.

More on the subject

Germany and the G20 summit "This will be very, very difficult"

Thus Scholz became now for the second time within six weeks sufferer of a defect with a long-haul Airbus, of which the flight readiness has only two machines at its disposal. (dpa, AFP)

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