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Germans, Dutch Ground Turkish Airline

DW staff / AFP (jb)
May 13, 2005

A diplomatic dispute between Holland and Germany on one side and Turkey on the other began Thursday after Dutch and German officials grounded a Turkish airline without satisfactory explanation, airline officials say.

Onur Air's fleet is stuck on the tarmac as the row takes offImage: AP

A private Turkish airline grounded by Dutch and German authorities for safety reasons threatened on Friday to take legal action against both countries unless it is given a satisfactory explanation for the sanction.

"Our planes have been grounded but no reasons have been given," Cankut Bagana, the president of the airline in question, Onur Air as reported by the Anatolia news agency. "Today, our lawyers demanded an explanation from both Dutch and German civil aviation authorities. If we do not get an explanation, we will take them to court in the Netherlands and Germany."

On Thursday, Dutch authorities had informed the Istanbul-based Onur Air that it had been grounded for a month due to "serious safety deficiencies observed in respect of aircraft, operational procedures and aircraft handling", according to a copy of the Dutch decision obtained by AFP.

German authorities followed suit shortly after, telling the company in a fax that all granted permissions had been "revoked with immediate effect due to severe safety concerns". It did not say how long the ban would be in effect.

"The fact that the Netherlands and Germany adopted the same attitude within two hours of each other gives us the impression that this was a planned act," Bagana said. "Onur Air is safe airline. As is the case with every airline, it is under 24-hour scrutiny from Turkey aviation authorities."

A chauvinistic approach, airline officials say

Some 40,000 passengers will be affected by the Dutch and German decisions until the end of the week, he added.

A company spokesman earlier raised the possibility that the bans were motivated by political and commercial interests and were aimed at snatching up Onur Air's share in the market.

"It is a chauvinistic approach.... We believe the bans are motivated by political and commercial interests," Rauf Gerz told AFP, adding that soon after the ban, a Dutch airline, Martinair, said it would shuttle between 1,500 and 2,000 of the Onur Air passengers back to the Netherlands this weekend.

"We have to search for some other reason than safety behind the ban. They (Dutch authorities) are trying to eliminate us from the market," Gerz said.

Turkish government angry

The bans also angered the Turkish government, which also accused Dutch and German authorities of failing to give a satisfactory explanation for their action which it said was undertaken unilaterally against international practices.

"In cases such as this, the most appropriate action under international practices is to seek a solution with civil aviation authorities from the country where the company is registered," the transport ministry said in a statement. "But despite a decision to hold a meeting between Turkish and Dutch aviation authorities, the measure was put into practice unilaterally without waiting for the meeting."

The ministry denied the existence of any "technical deficiencies" that would prevent Onur Air from flying. "It would be out of the question for our ministry to allow the company to fly in case of such a deficiency," it said in a statement.

The foreign ministry has been called in to make diplomatic efforts to resolve the problem, it added.

Both countries home to numerous Turks

Onur Air, founded in 1992 and which currently employs 879 people, makes 300 weekly flights from Turkey to Belgium, Austria, Germany and Spain and about 75 to the Netherlands on its fleet of 28.

The Netherlands and Germany are both home to sizeable communities of Turkish immigrant workers, and several million tourists from the two countries travel to Turkey each summer for holidays.

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