A technical malfunction forced the pilots of an Airasia X plane from Kuala Lumpur to Jeddah to abort the flight midway and circle for nearly four hours to burn fuel before landing safely here on Sunday.
Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said AirAsia X flight D7172 experienced a “technical error” shortly after taking off at KL International Airport 2.
“I have been told those on board are safe. The pilot had to fly for about four hours to burn fuel to make the aircraft lighter, in order to land safely,” Liow said.
Liow said the incident is being investigated.
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The incident sparked questions about Malaysian airline’s safety record as it struggles to regain trust in the aftermath of the loss of Flight QZ8501 due to stormy weather in the Java Sea in late December with 162 people on board.
“One auto-thrust was not functioning properly,” media reports quoted AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes as saying. He called it a minor issue.
The plane — operated by the long-haul arm of the AirAsia Group of carriers, AirAsia X– took off at about 12.20pm local time and landed safely at KLIA 2 at about 5.30pm.
The QZ8501 accident was followed by two other deadly Malaysia Airlines incidents last year that killed over 500 people and raised concerns among many travellers about the safety of the country’s carriers.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared last March after inexplicably diverting from its Kuala Lumpur-Beijing course. The airliner, carrying 239 people, is believed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean, but no trace has been found.
MH17 was brought down by a surface-to-air missile last July in rebel-held eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 aboard.
In a separate incident, at least 20 passengers aboard Malaysian budget carrier Malindo Air flight from George Town in Penang state to Kuala Lumpur on Thursday disembarked from the aircraft minutes before takeoff after hearing what they claimed was “a loud argument from the cockpit.”
The plane with the remaining 52 passengers departed after a 50-minute delay and landed safely in Kula Lumpur.
Apologising for the delay and misunderstanding, a Malindo official said the situation could have been misinterpreted.
“From both the voyage report of the flight and our understanding, the captain was instructing a third observer-trainee pilot in a stern manner as he and the co-pilot prepared for takeoff,” he said.
The official said upon hearing the loud instruction, a passenger decided to offload the aircraft and 18 others followed him.