x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Azza barred from flying in UAE

A spokesman for the Sudanese airline accepts the prohibition as 'normal procedure' during an investigation into a fatal aircraft accident.

The Boeing 707 Azza Air transport cargo aircraft that crashed after take-off at Sharjah airport is parked on the tarmac two months before the mishap.
The Boeing 707 Azza Air transport cargo aircraft that crashed after take-off at Sharjah airport is parked on the tarmac two months before the mishap.

DUBAI // The Sudanese air transport company operating the Boeing 707 cargo aircraft that crashed in Sharjah last week will not be allowed to fly in UAE airspace until the investigation into the fatal incident is finished, an aviation official said yesterday.

"We have decided to stop Azza Air from using the UAE airspace until completion of the investigations," said Saif al Suwaidi, director of the General Civil Aviation Authority. The Boeing 707-330C crashed shortly after take-off on Wednesday afternoon, killing all six crew members. No passengers were on board. Investigations have been launched into what may have caused the crash of the cargo aircraft, which was leased by Sudan Airways from Azza Air Transport Company.

Azza said yesterday it was not aware of any flight ban in the UAE. "I have not heard of this," Aidoros al Tayyab, chief of flight operations with Azza, said by telephone. However, it is normal procedure to discontinue until investigations are completed." The aviation authority has said the inquiry would focus on the cargo plane's four turbofan engines, which were at least 24 years old. On questions about why the airline was allowed to operate in the UAE, Mr al Suwaidi said: "The public is not aware of how the aviation industry functions. We cannot blacklist any airlines without proper justification. In fact, this airline has not been blacklisted even in Europe."

"The UAE follows a different process of assessment for blacklisting operators as compared to Europe," he said. "However, even if we did follow the Europe's model, this airline would not have been blacklisted." He said the company had only two aircraft functioning in the country, and that the UAE was bound by the rules of the International Civil Aviation Organisation in punitive matters such as blacklisting.

Flight SD2241 left Sharjah International Airport for Khartoum at 3.29pm on Wednesday but crashed within two minutes of take-off. It came down on a deserted stretch of land near the Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club, missing a number of nearby roads. Investigators have recovered the cockpit voice recorder, which is expected to provide clues to the crash. UAE authorities said they were confident that their investigations would be completed soon.

"We have a good number of people working on this," Mr al Suwaidi said, adding that some of the evidence would be sent abroad for analysis. Meanwhile, a team of experts from Sudan arrived in the UAE yesterday to participate in the investigation. It is expected to visit the accident site and sift through evidence. "We expect to join them soon in moving ahead with the investigations," Mr al Suwaidi said. "Of course, we will be responsible to ensure everything continues well."

Sudanese officials said yesterday that the team comprised aviation authorities as well as Azza officials. "Our own team of experts have already left for the UAE and have started assisting in the investigations," Mr al Tayyab said. Footage of the aircraft's take-off, taken from the airfield's control tower, shows a piece of metal falling just after the 707 leaves the frame. Officials later identified the piece as a panel from one of the engines.

Losing thrust in engines on one side of the plane - that model has two on each wing - would have catastrophic consequences for the aircraft during the sensitive take-off phase, experts have said. At the end of the footage, Flight SD2241 can be seen banking hard to the right, nearly turning inverted before striking the ground about 90 degrees from level flight. Fully loaded with six hours' worth of fuel, the aircraft exploded on impact.

Some have speculated that the captain, a 20-year veteran in aviation, may have realised that his stricken aircraft was likely to crash in a populated area and steered it sharply to avoid causing more devastation on the ground. More than 1,000 Boeing 707s have been built since production began in the early 1950s. A few dozen remain in use commercially. pmenon@thenational.ae