China’s Tibet Airlines flight bursts into flames after aborting takeoff and veering off runway

May 12, 2022, 6:43 AM UTC

China suffered a second aircraft disaster in as many months on Thursday, when a Tibet Airlines plane burst into flames after veering off the runway during takeoff.

Videos posted online appears to show the front of the Airbus A319 engulfed in flames as passengers flee from the aircraft. Over 40 people were reportedly taken to hospital, with minor injuries. There have been no fatalities reported from the 119 passengers and nine crew members on-board.

According to a statement posted online by Tibet Airlines, the crew onboard noticed an “abnormality” during take-off, after which the aircraft veered off the runway. The incident took place at Chongqing Airport, in southwest China, and the airport operator says regular flight schedules have resumed.

China generally has an excellent flight safety record. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) overhauled its safety standards in the early 2000s, and the country experienced zero fatal incidents between 2000 and 2022. That streak ended tragically, two months ago.

On March 21, a China Eastern flight travelling from Kunming nosedived suddenly and crashed into the ground while en route to Guangzhou, killing all 132 people on board. Salvage crews soon recovered the Boeing737-800’s flight data record, stored in the plane’s so-called black boxes, from the crash site. But the cause of the crash remains a mystery.

When authorities published their initial report on the crash on April 21, the CAAC said the “two recorders on the aircraft were severely damaged due to the crash, and the data restoration and analysis work is still in progress.” There has been no update.

The crash sent a jolt through Boeing shares, which dropped 7% on the news, but recovered soon afterwards. China Eastern temporarily grounded all other Boeing 737-800 flights after the crash, prompting fears that Boeing might suffer broader fallout from the incident.

China was the last country to lift a ban on Boeing 737-MAX jets, following the 2019 safety scandal around that model. Beijing only rescinded its ban on the flagship jet in December last year, helping Airbus maintain its lead in the market.

According to China Daily, Airbus occupies a 53% share of the aircraft market in China. Last year, Airbus deliveries to Chinese carriers increased 40%, with China sales accounting for 23% of the company’s total sales. Airbus told Reuters the company is aware of the reported Tibet Airline incident and is assessing the situation.

The A319 is one of Airbus’s smaller models and the plane that caught fire on Thursday was nine years old, Reuters says. An isolated incident like the “abnormality” at Chongqing airport will unlikely affect Airbus’s broader operations. Airbus’s London-based shares have yet to react to the news.

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