Almost 70 days after the new N7.65bn presidential jet, Falcon 7X, touched down at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, from the manufacturer’s factory in France, Dassault Aviation, France European authorities have banned the jet from flying in Europe and other parts of the world over safety issues.
The ban, an Emergency Airworthiness Directive, which was issued on Thursday by the European Aviation Safety Agency, the agency that regulates Dassault as well as the European aviation industry, took immediate effect, starting from May 27.
The EASA’s grounding of the worldwide fleet of Dassault’s Falcon 7X executive jets came hours after one of the aircraft encountered an in-flight anomaly that could have caused the pilots to lose control.
The EASA directive, which was published on Thursday, said that the jet “experienced an uncontrolled pitch trim runaway during descent. The crew succeeded in recovering a stable situation and performed an uneventful landing.”
An analysis of the plane’s Digital Flight Data Recorder and Fault History Database confirmed the event, EASA said, but the cause of the pitch trim runaway couldn’t be explained.
“This condition, if it occurs again, could lead to the loss of control of the aeroplane,” the EASA notice said.
However, the Cologne, Germany-based safety agency said in its Emergency Airworthiness Directive that the decision to halt all flight operations of Dassault’s flagship jet came at the request of the Paris-based company, according to a Dow Jones report on Friday.
The plane was en route between Europe and Malaysia, Asia, with no passengers on board, Dassault spokesman Stephane Fort told Dow Jones Newswires by telephone.
The pilots managed to regain control of the aircraft and landed it safely in Malaysia, he said. Fort couldn’t say who owns the aircraft or who was operating it.
Fort said the decision to ground the aircraft was a precautionary measure.
Dassault has sent a team of technicians to Malaysia to try to identify the cause of the problem, he said, adding, “Our priority is the safety of our passengers and our aircraft.
The Falcon 7X was introduced in 2007 and is designed to fly 5,950 nautical miles with at least eight passengers. There are 112 of the aircraft in service.
“This airworthiness directive is considered to be an interim measure pending the outcome of the investigation currently carried out by the manufacturer,” EASA said.
The Falcon 7X has a sticker price of about $50m, depending on cabin features.
President Goodluck Jonathan had in the third week of March 2011, taken delivery of a Falcon 7X plane, shortly after it landed on the shores of the country from France.
The aircraft, which was manufactured by Dassault Aviation of France, cost the government $51m (about N7.65bn.)
The Federal Executive Council had on August 12, 2010 approved $102m for the purchase of two Falcon 7X and $53.3m for one Gulfstream G550 aircraft to beef up the presidential fleet.
The second Falcon 7X, it was learnt then, was expected to arrive in the country during the second quarter of this year.
In what is probably its first mission, the jet was said to have conveyed the wife of the President, Patience, to Sokoto during the third of week of March.
The two Falcon 7X aircraft are to be supplied by Messrs Dassault Aviation of France, while the Gulfstream G550 will come from Messrs Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation of the United States.