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A Eurowings A320 at Düsseldorf Airport. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fabian Behr)

Eurowings Flight Turns Back to Germany After Reaching Closed Airport

Questions were this weekend after a Eurowings Airbus A320 took off from Dusseldorf, Germany, bound for the island city of Olbia, Italy, and only during its descent was the crew told their destination airport was closed to commercial traffic.

On May 23, Flight EW9844, operated by Lufthansa’s subsidiary airline, took off from the east German city at approximately 6:30 a.m. One hour and 30 minutes later, D-AEWJ, a three-year-old A320, entered a holding pattern located towards the northeast side of the destination island of Sardinia.

After holding for 35 minutes whilst communication between air traffic control and company operations took place, the aircraft climbed to 35,000 feet and flew back home, eventually landing in Dusseldorf four hours after take off.

The confusion related to the status of the airport is likely to have come from the Italian Ministry of Infrastructure and Transportation which, on May 17, announced the reopening of Olbia Airport, which was closed as part of the Italian lockdown and restrictions in travel due to the Coronavirus.

But a Notice to Airman (NOTAM), which contains information relating to an airport, was released shortly afterward clarifying the airport was to remain closed until at least June 2:

COVID-19. AERODROME CLOSED TO COMMERCIAL AVIATION TRAFFIC IN COMPLIANCE WITH REGIONE SARDEGNA DECREE 23 OF 17TH MAY 2020. RMK: GENERAL AVIATION ACTIVITY AND COMMERCIAL AVIATION ACTIVITY ON DEMAND (AEROTAXI) WITH AIRCRAFT HAVING MAXIMUM CABIN CONFIGURATION EQUAL OR LESS THAN 19 SEATS ARE APPROVED IN COMPLIANCE WITH MINISTRY OF INFRASTRUCTURE AND TRANSPORTATION DECREE 207/2020 AND REGIONE SARDEGNA DECREE 23 OF 17TH MAY 2020.

It seems that a number of checks that could have caught the looming mistake did not stop the aircraft from leaving Dusseldorf. From the flight planners who created the flight, to Eurowings operations which monitor its flight network, to air traffic control for accepting and clearing a flight plan to a closed airport.

But ultimately, the responsibility would be with the flight crew of that airport, which, as part of their flight plan package, would be issued with the latest NOTAMs for all airports and airspace involved for its flight.

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