By Tom Westcott and Ashraf Abdul Wahab.
Tripoli, 14 April 2013:
A documentation error that saw an Afriqiyah flight from Benghazi to Paris . . .[restrict]on Friday refused permission to land could threaten the lifting of the airline’s EU airspace ban.
“I hope that this is not going to adversely affect the lifting of the ban,” Director General of Libya’s Civil Aviation Authority (LYCAA), Captain Nasereddin Shaebelain, told the Libya Herald today, Sunday, “but this should not have happened. It is a fault.”
What the error actually was as yet remains unclear. Shaebelain said that there was a problem with the flight plan documentation, either a misprint or some other misinformation.
“Normally the flight plan is the responsibility of the airline, but flight command is responsible for checking this, and the LYCAA also has a responsibility to oversee the flight plan,” he explained.
Afriqiyah is wet-leasing an Air Moldova aircraft to service its European routes while the ban on flying in EU airspace remains in place. Air Moldova are, therefore, supposed to be directly involved in the flight plan documentation. In this instance, it appears that Afriqiyah might have completed this documentation, rendering the entire flight unauthorised.
However, a French official has told the Libya Herald that problems started when the plane overflew Switzerland, in an apparent diversion from the flight plan. “The Swiss got in touch with France,” he said, “to say that there was an illegal Afriqiyah flight heading towards France.”
This prompted Paris to check the flight’s documentation, which was described as “badly done.” Deciding that the flight had undertaken an “unauthorised flight path,” French air traffic control refused to let the Afriqiyah aircraft land in the country.
By now running low on fuel, the pilot asked Italy if the plane could land there and refuel. With the aircraft now making an unauthorised flight, permission was initially refused, then eventually given, for a refuelling stop in Rome.
People on board expecting a journey of three and a half hours actually spent some 13 hours on the plane. In anger at the fiasco, they apparently refused to get off the plane once it arrived back in Libya.
The passengers, some travelling with their families, included 142 graduates on their way attend French language training courses. The students – 277 in total – were to be flown in two groups, the first on Friday’s beleaguered flight.
They were put on a new flight yesterday, Saturday, and arrived safely in Paris. The remaining 135 trainees were expected to fly to France today.
The LYCAA has set up a team to investigate what actually happened. “We have to investigate all parties,” Shaebelain said, “and this should be completed by the end of the week.”
The blunder has done Afriqiyah’s reputation in Europe no favours. The French source told the Libya Herald that, because of the current ban, all Libyan airlines have to be seen to be abiding 100 percent by the rules. “The rules have to be respected,” he said, “and Afriqyah Airways has not respected them.” [/restrict]