The aviation company Lufthansa admits for the first time that one of its subsidiaries could be responsible for the problems and the dangerous emergency landing of a jet of the Federal Government less than two weeks ago.
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"We have read the reports on the possible causes of the incident and take them very seriously," said a spokesman for Lufthansa Technik on a SPIEGEL inquiry. For this reason, the maintenance work on the crashed aircraft by a Lufthansa subsidiary will be checked "on the most thorough".
The so-called incident was the most dangerous breakdown of the government fleet ever. On the previous Tuesday, two Bundeswehr pilots had picked up a newly serviced "Global 5000" VIP jet from Lufthansa Bombardier Aviation Services (LBAS) in Berlin.
The joint venture of Lufthansa and the manufacturer of the "Global 5000" was founded in 1997, the crane airline holds a majority stake in the company with 51 percent.
Apparently technicians used a part wrong
After the start in the direction of Cologne, the experienced pilots lost control of the jet very quickly. Without control input from the cockpit, the machine rolled from right to left, it even came to a dangerous stall.
After the pilots had decided on an immediate emergency landing in Schoenefeld, they came in an even fiercer situation. Shortly before touchdown, the jet suddenly steered sharply to the right and missed the runway.
The situation got out of control: After the pilot got the jet on the apron of the airport on the floor, the machine skidded over turf and taxiways. Both wings crashed to the ground and broke through a sign.
The investigators of the Bundeswehr have meanwhile limited the cause of the life-threatening breakdown. According to SPIEGEL information on the day after the accident, they discovered that a central part of the control, known in technical jargon as "torque tube assembly", was apparently installed incorrectly during maintenance by the Lufthansa subsidiary.
The component is central to the control of the "global" jet. Simply put, it translates, like some kind of clutch, the pilots' pilot commands to the aircraft's hydraulics, and controls the rudder and spoiler flaps on the wings. The flaps increase the roll of the jet to the right and left.
The General Aviation Security, which investigates the serious incident for the Bundeswehr, has meanwhile confiscated the maintenance documents of the Lufthansa subsidiary LBAS. The papers confirm that the component was replaced during maintenance in Berlin. Apparently technicians used the new part but wrong, so that the spoiler flaps reversed response and made steering the jet impossible.
Investigations will also examine whether the pilots could have noticed the wrong attitude of the spoilers before the start. According to insiders, a test of the spoiler is indeed part of the so-called check list before every start. However, the pilots can see on the aircraft type in the cockpit via an ad only if the spoiler work at all - but not on which side to move the flaps.
A public relations disaster for Lufthansa
For Lufthansa, the possible maintenance error is more than a minor mishap. Shortly after the first reports of the dramatic emergency landing, the group from Hamburg sent the project manager for the care of the so-called White Fleet to Berlin. Together with Bombardier's experts, a crisis team was immediately set up to investigate the causes and consequences of the serious error.
As a premium company for the equipment of private aircraft, the breakdown for Lufthansa is a public relations disaster. Such a life-threatening lapse, of all things in the maintenance of a government aircraft, which is regularly used by Chancellor Angela Merkel and her ministers for European flights, quickly gets around among the wealthy clientele.
Lufthansa therefore also announced an internal investigation to determine how it could lead to the breakdown. "Irrespective of regulatory inquiries, we are thoroughly investigating work on our subsidiary LBAS, which is jointly operated with Bombardier and Execujet."
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The Ministry of Defense will closely follow Lufthansa's internal research. Immediately after the near-crash in Berlin-Schönefeld Minister Ursula von der Leyen had ordered a check whether there are systemic problems in the maintenance of government airlines by Lufthansa aside from the individual case. Also to the General Aviation Safety in the coming weeks to deliver a report
For the time being, the Air Force is playing it safe with the other three "Global 5000" jets. So technicians on the ground before every start to visually check whether the spoilers are controlled correctly on the wings. Since no abnormalities have been detected in the other jets, they are allowed to fly again. One of the first guests was Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier, he flew to China on Wednesday with a "Global5000".