On 15 September 2021, a Lufthansa Airbus A350 registered D-AIXK operating flight LH434 from Munich (MUC) to Chicago (ORD), turned around over Scotland then flew back to Germany. During the return it made a low pass at Cologne, then flew south to Munich where it continued to hold before finally landing at Frankfurt. With details from Lufthansa, we break down what happened and how Lufthansa made the decisions it did to ensure the safety of all onboard.
Flight LH434 departed Munich for Chicago at 14:04 UTC climbing up to a cruising altitude of 38,000 feet. Shortly after the aircraft left Munich the airport operations team discovered pieces of rubber on the runway. After analysis, the airport and Lufthansa determined the tire pieces belonged to LH434. Lufthansa technical operations relayed that information to the crew, and the aircraft turned around and headed back to Germany. As we’ve written before, flights that encounter a technical issue often return to one of the airline’s base airports. In this case, the airline also did not want the aircraft to cross the ocean with a possible landing gear issue, so the decision was made to return to Germany.
The low pass
While returning to Munich, the airline requested a visual inspection of the aircraft’s landing gear at Cologne/Bonn Airport (CGN) by the air traffic control tower. The aircraft made a low approach at 675 AMSL so the tower could visually confirm that the gear was down and that there was no damage to any other part of the aircraft beside the tire. Once the tower completed its inspection, the crew decided to return to Munich.
VIDEO/INCIDENT: Lufthansa #LH434 Munich-Chicago (Airbus A350 D-AIXK) turned back over Scotland at 1600UTC, made a gear down, low pass at Cologne & is now burning fuel for a return to MUC. Reason not yet known.https://t.co/GTfI9qEvi9https://t.co/e9lQglEKgb
(c) Cologne Airport pic.twitter.com/tz2Ma488Q3
— Airport Webcams (@AirportWebcams) September 15, 2021
Every aircraft has a maximum landing weight, which is the safe total weight at which the aircraft can land without requiring an inspection of the airframe for damage. In abnormal situations like this with a tire issue, the crew also wants the aircraft to be as light as possible in order to ensure a safe arrival. A lighter aircraft is easier to stop, which is especially important in cases where tires may be compromised. In the case of LH434, the crew flew to an area near Munich and entered a holding pattern to continue reducing fuel weight.
The diversion to Frankfurt
While holding and preparing for a landing in Munich, poor weather became a factor. The crew also considered the fact that Munich airport was operating with a single runway and therefore decided that diverting to Frankfurt would be the best course of action. The flight landed safely in Frankfurt at 20:20 UTC, 6 hours and 16 minutes after its departure from Munich.
What happens next?
The passengers were accommodated in hotels in Frankfurt overnight and will continue their journey to the US today. The A350 remains in Frankfurt where a new tire will be fitted and the aircraft returned to service after inspection.
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