Greece’s Aegean Airlines abruptly stopped Beirut flights, because of damage to one of its jets. And rumours quickly pointed to gunfire damage!
This story relates to an incident. But unusually, this is an incident we know very little about. However, it is something serious enough to cause an airline to not want to fly its aircraft to the incident airport. And we know that it happened on the 10th of January this year. It involved an Aegean Airlines aircraft, in Beirut Rafik Hariri International Airport (OLBA), in Lebanon.
Aegean Suspends Beirut Flights
Last Saturday (15th of January), the airline announced that it has suspended all flights to and from Beirut. This decision is temporary, pending the investigation results relating to damage to one of its Airbus aircraft. Ground crews found this damage on an Aegean Airlines A320 that flew to Beirut on the 10th. That aircraft flew the return flight to Athens (LGAV), Greece. But the airline cancelled the next day’s flight.
Neither the airline nor the airport authorities in Beirut nor anyone else initially offered more details into the incident. And that gave rise to a lot of speculation, primarily in Lebanese media. We have seen previous incidents in Lebanon, at the same airport, involving celebratory gunfire that damaged aircraft. Such incidents have taken place this time of the year. Eventually, the Lebanese Transport and Public works Minister Ali Hamie made a statement.
The Minister’s statement covered the examination of damage found below the cockpit of the Aegean Airlines A320, in Beirut. It included the following:
“After close examination, it was determined that it was not the result of a bullet.”
More Raised Eyebrows?
It is a definitive statement, and the Minister went on to suggest that the damage could have happened prior to the plane’s arrival in Beirut. But to some, the statement raised more questions than it answered. In the odd ways that social media debates go, this comment tended to re-ignite the rumours. This was specifically because it took a close examination to determine that this isn’t gunfire damage.
Before the statement, the passage of time since the incident suggested that it was a non-issue. This is because the Aegean Airlines A320 in this incident flew on from Beirut. And kept flying. The date and airport made it easy to find the aircraft: it is an Airbus A320-232, with tail number SX-DNE. Aegean picked it up new in March 2016. And in May this year, the airline gave it its new colours.
The Aegean Airlines flight to Beirut was A3-946, the return to Athens being A3-947. Aircraft tracking data shows that the plane returned to Athens normally that day. Not only that, but it also performed two more sectors on the same day. SX-DNE has remained in regular service since.
This suggests that the damage can’t have affected the fuselage itself. Anything resembling damage from a bullet to the pressurized hull would have to ground the aircraft. In any case, the airline is still not flying to Beirut, stating that it has notified Greek authorities and Beirut airport authorities. With the investigation still ongoing, Aegean has not yet offered any timeline regarding its return to Beirut.