German minister axes trip over broken plane

German minister axes trip over broken plane

The mishap revived debate about the German government's ageing planes, with media dubbing the latest incident a 'fiasco'
The mishap revived debate about the German government's ageing planes, with media dubbing the latest incident a 'fiasco'. Photo: Odd ANDERSEN / AFP
Source: AFP

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German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was forced Tuesday to scrap her trip to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji after her plane suffered recurring technical problems, the latest in a series of incidents with the German fleet.

"We tried everything, but unfortunately it's logistically not possible to carry out my Indo-Pacific travel without the defective plane," the minister wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

"That is more than annoying," she added.

Baerbock had left on Sunday for the week-long trip but her plane had suffered an outage after refuelling in Abu Dhabi.

The minister was stranded for hours while the technical crew battled to fix a problem with the wing flaps.

Her delegation sought to get underway again overnight to Tuesday but the 23-year-old Airbus A340 plane had to turn back to Abu Dhabi as the defect resurfaced.

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"For security reasons, the plane had to return there," wrote the German air force on X.

The mishap revived debate about the German government's ageing planes, with media dubbing the latest incident "embarrassing" and a "fiasco".

The plane "is unable to transport our highest diplomat to international appointments. Counterparts who were waiting for Baerbock are left hanging," the top-selling Bild newspaper wrote.

In a video from inside the plane, shared by Der Spiegel magazine, the pilot is heard announcing the return to Abu Dhabi, adding that "nothing like this has happened" before.

Germany's Luftwaffe air force announced Monday that it had decided to retire the plane early, as well the government's other A340-300.

"We will take the two A340s out of service as soon as possible, i.e. in the coming weeks ahead of schedule," the Luftwaffe wrote on X.

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The government purchased three new A350s for 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) in 2019 to update the fleet, and had planned to phase out the plane carrying Baerbock by the end of 2024.

"With the A350s, the air force has robust and modern aircraft at its disposal for long-haul operations," the Luftwaffe said.

The Australian foreign ministry expressed regret at the cancelled trip.

"Germany is an important strategic partner and close friend of Australia, and while we share minister Baerbock's disappointment that she will not be able to visit this week, we look forward to welcoming her to Australia in the future," a foreign affairs spokesperson said.

New Zealand's foreign ministry said it hoped "there will be an opportunity for the ministers to catch up in the future".

Baerbock was expected to fly back to Germany on a commercial flight, according to media reports.

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German officials have repeatedly seen their flight plans disrupted in recent years because of technical problems.

The same Airbus A340-300 thwarting Baerbock's travel plans also delayed former chancellor Angela Merkel's trip to a G20 summit in 2018, that time due to an electronic fault.

Earlier that year, then-finance minister and current Chancellor Olaf Scholz had to take a commercial flight home from Indonesia after the same plane was grounded because rodents had chewed through some of the plane's cables.

Baerbock herself already suffered a travel setback in May, when she had to extend her visit in Qatar by a day after a different government plane suffered a flat tyre.

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Source: AFP

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