Air France blames A380 fuel diversion on space launch

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Air France is seeking to understand why its Airbus A380 service from Shanghai was caught out by airspace closures relating to a Russian space launch, forcing the aircraft to divert for fuel.

The aircraft, en route to Paris Charles de Gaulle as flight AF111, had to divert to Hamburg where it arrived at about 06:00 on 26 March.

Air France says a Soyuz space vehicle launch from the Baikonur cosmodrome – a crewing mission to the International Space Station – resulted in the closure of airspace in the vicinity of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

The extent of the closure is unclear. Great circle distances from Shanghai to Paris track north of the Kazakh-Russian border, while Baikonur is located in Kazakhstan’s south.

But while its flights from Bangkok and Guangzhou received the notification from NOTAMs, and were able to take the closure into account, the airline says AF111’s crew did not.

AF111 had been airborne for several hours before the Soyuz launch.

The carrier is trying to determine whether this miscommunication was an “internal or external” matter, it adds, and is looking into its flight-planning operation and its service providers.

Air France says the A380 crew was given the option of changing the route or reducing the aircraft’s airspeed, and the pilots opted for the latter.

But in order to arrive at Paris with regulatory fuel requirements, it adds, the aircraft had to divert to Hamburg to replenish its tanks.