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German top diplomat abandons Pacific trip over plane issues

Published August 14, 2023last updated August 15, 2023

It's not the first time problems with aircraft have derailed German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock's diplomacy. This time her flight to Australia was disrupted due to mechanical issues.

Annalena Baerbock and the government plane
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has already had problems with the German government aircraftImage: Michael Kappeler/dpa/picture alliance

Following a series of problems with her German government plane, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock canceled her planned weeklong trip to Australia on Tuesday.

"We tried everything, but it is no longer logistically possible to continue my Pacific trip without the defect aircraft. It is beyond annoying," Baerbock wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

The plane was forced to turn around after a second attempt to fly from Abu Dhabi to Australia failed early on Tuesday morning.

"Mission aborted! The error reappeared when the machine was now fully fueled. We are now landing in Abu Dhabi again," wrote the official account of the German Air Force, Team Luftwaffe, on X.

The second attempt to take off for Australia took place around 1 a.m. local time (2100 UTC).

On Monday, Baerbock was already stuck for hours in Abu Dhabi after her plane encountered mechanical difficulties.

The German foreign minister's trip to the Pacific region would also have seen her hold talks in New Zealand and Fiji.

What are the issues with the plane?

After a stopover to refuel in Abu Dhabi on Monday, the flight carrying Baerbock and her delegation had to dump fuel and turn around.

German Foreign Office spokesman Sebastian Fischer, who was on board, explained that "due to a mechanical problem, we have to return to Abu Dhabi for safety reasons. Options for further travel arrangements are currently being clarified."

Shortly after take-off, the captain informed passengers that there were problems with the retraction of the landing flaps, according to reporters traveling with the minister.

In light of the latest incident, two Airbus 340 government planes due already to be decommissioned in September 2023 and the end of 2024 will be retired early, an air force spokesperson said on Tuesday.

Instead, the newer Airbus A350s that the government already has will be used for long-haul journeys.

Diplomacy interrupted 

It's not the first time problems with planes have derailed German diplomacy.

In mid-May, Baerbock was stranded in Doha, Qatar, due to a flat tire on her government aircraft.

Last year she had to cancel a meeting with her British counterpart after her airplane was grounded in Ireland due to ice.

Baerbock's planned first visit to Australia

During what would have been her inaugural visit to Australia, Baerbock had planned to visit both the capital Canberra and the metropolis of Sydney. A meeting with Foreign Minister Penny Wong was also planned in Sydney.

According to the German Foreign Office website, the main topics Baerbock intended to discuss with regional partners were economic security, Russia's war in Ukraine and China's role in the Indo-Pacific.

On Tuesday in Canberra, Baerbock was slated to take part in a ceremony for the return of cultural objects to representatives of the Indigenous Kaurna people at an institute for Aboriginal studies.

dh/lo,rs (dpa, AP, DW sources)

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