Lufthansa A340 reaches the Atlantic, U-turns back to Germany

Vytautas Kielaitis/

If long-haul flights were not exhausting enough, passengers on a scheduled Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA) flight to New York on December 9, 2019, learned how frustrating the trips can be. Especially when you end up where you started (or somewhere nearby). Having reached the Atlantic, Lufthansa Flight LH404 was forced to turn back to Germany due to an issue with the hydraulics system, but could not land at its point of origin.

Lufthansa Flight LH404 operated on an Airbus A340-600 (registration D-AIHB) took off from Frankfurt Airport (FRA), Germany, on the evening of December 9, 2019.  It was headed for New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), the U.S. 

Having flown past Ireland and further over the Atlantic, the aircraft was forced to make a U-turn back to Germany after the flight crew became aware of a fault in the hydraulics system, the Business Insider reports. The aircraft diverted and landed safely at Cologne Bonn Airport (CGN) well into the night on December 10, 2019, as flight tracking website shows.

A spokesman for Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA) confirmed the event to AeroTime: “LH404/09DEC Frankfurt-JFK, Airbus A346, registration DAIHB, did return to Frankfurt after 4 hours flight time due to technical hydraulic problems. The aircraft landed safe and normally in Cologne at 02:00/10DEC.”

Furthermore, given the technical issue, the flight crew’s decision to turn back was a “precautionary measure” but not an emergency, the spokesman added. “The crew decided the return as a precautionary measure. There was never any danger during the whole flight”.

After a total eight-hour flight, passengers were reportedly transported back from Cologne to Frankfurt Airport by bus and rebooked onto alternate flights. Apparently, the reason why the flight ended up landing at Cologne Bonn Airport instead of Frankfurt, located some 85 miles (137km) away, is because the airport is closed for operations during night hours (11:00 p.m. to 5 a.m.), the Business Insider notes.

As for the aircraft in question, the Airbus A340-600, named “Bremerhaven”, was delivered to the airline in 2003 and is over 16 years of age, according to data. Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA) has 17 A340-600s and another 17 A340-300s in its fleet, as Airbus latest figures through November 30, 2019, show.

That other flight

Lufthansa Flight LH404 reminds of a similar recent occurrence with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. On November 28, 2019, KLM Flight KL685, operated on a Boeing 747-400 (registration PH-BFT), took off from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS) in the Netherlands. Heading for Mexico City (MEX), it never reached its destination. Instead, having made its way to eastern Canada, the aircraft turned around sending passengers back to where they started – a journey that in total lasted 11 hours.

Due to a volcanic eruption in Mexico, the flight crew decided to opt for a less risky option and divert. At the time, KLM did not disclose why the flight did not land in a different airport close by rather than making all the way back to Amsterdam, citing only “unfavorable flying conditions above Mexico” due to volcanic activity. The Dutch airline later clarified that landing at another airport, say, in the U.S., was not possible, because of the visa requirements of passengers and the necessary permits for a large cargo of horses that were being transported on the aircraft.


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