It was an embarrassing incident. At the end of November 2018, the flight service was unable to bring the then German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the G20 summit in Buenos Aires. Because the Airbus A340, in which the Chancellor was, had to make an emergency landing in Cologne/Bonn due to electrical problems. The second A340 was not available due to crew flight duty. After all, the German head of government had to travel late to Argentina on a scheduled flight with Iberia.
That caused a lot of trouble. “That evening I had direct telephone contact with the then Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and then ultimately also with the Chancellor,” said the Air Force Inspector, Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz later. “You all know that when you put your cell phone on the table and the other party is easy to understand without activating the loudspeaker function. That’s what happened to me that evening,” Gerhartz recalled the volume of the conversations.
As a result of these events, the decision was made to renew the flight readiness fleet – with three Airbus A350s and two A321 LRs. “Very quickly, namely in March 2019, the procurement order was sent from the Federal Ministry of Defense to the Federal Office for Equipment, Information Technology and Use of the Bundeswehr,” said Major General Thorsten Puschmann at the handover of the second A350 in Hamburg.
Around a year later, in April 2020, a Bundeswehr acceptance team was able to collect the first A350 from Airbus in Toulouse, together with experts from Lufthansa Technik, who had been commissioned to equip the planes. But there was a problem: the Covid 19 pandemic, which had just started, and the first lockdown.
“European air traffic was on the ground, there were no tests yet, let alone vaccinations, we all wore masks we had sewn ourselves, rail traffic was almost stopped, travel by car was more than strictly regulated, the entry and exit rules for Germany were changing at least daily,” remembers Puschmann, who is Vice President of the Federal Office for Equipment, Information Technology and Use of the Bundeswehr.
“While all airlines around the world prefer not to pick up their freshly produced aircraft in the first place,” the Bundeswehr A350 project team set out on an unusual business trip, says the major general.
“A six-man acceptance team was able to travel to Toulouse with our own air transport, organized and provided by the flight service.” Five colleagues from Lufthansa Technik were exceptionally taken along with special permission.
“Overnight stays in hotels were not possible at that time, so the entire team was accommodated for a period of ten days in a deserted training center on the Airbus company premises, or rather quartered and isolated,” says Puschmann. During this time, no one was allowed to leave or enter the facility. “Due to the pandemic, the food was placed outside the door in a cold box.”
The acceptance of the A350 that followed was successful. Puschmann suspects: At the aircraft manufacturer in Toulouse, “one will probably still talk about the crazy Germans who locked themselves away at Airbus during the deepest lockdown in order to test and pick up their first A350 on schedule”.
This article was written by Timo Nowack
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The original of this post “When crazy Germans locked themselves in at Airbus to pick up the A350” comes from aeroTelegraph.