This week the German chancellor's plane (an Airbus A340-300) had to abort the flight due to loss of communications. The newspaper write they only had a satellite phone left1:

Die Kommunikationssysteme waren ausgefallen, sodass kein Kontakt zum Boden möglich war. [Der Pilot] musste deshalb per Satellitentelefon mit dem Flughafen Köln/Bonn die ungeplante Landung vorbereiten.

The communication systems failed, contacting the ground wasn't possible. The satellite phone had to be used to prepare the landing.

Man gehe derzeit von einem Fehler in einer elektronischen Verteilerbox aus, die sowohl die Funkanlage als auch das System zum Ablassen des Kerosins steuere, hieß es von der Luftwaffe.

Currently an error in a distribution box is most likely. The box services the radio as well as the fuel dumping system.

Is the antenna for the satellite uplink an integral part of the air plane? As suggested here for WiFi. I assume satellite phone doesn't work from inside the plane without an external antenna, is this correct?

Maybe this is nitpicking, but when the satellite phone is build into the airplane, with the necessary tracking, why is this not considered part of the communications system?

How come that seemingly crucial yet quite simple two way radio can fail and is not powered by some very basic passive turbine? How much power is approximately required by the radio?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I don’t know whether that’s relevant to that particular flight, but I expect a head-of-state aircraft to have many more communications systems than the ones normally on board a standard A340. It doesn’t say in the article whether they used an aeronautical or a „normal“ satellite phone (which would normally not be used by crew but by Ms Merkel and her staff). I somehow expect the latter, actually...? $\endgroup$ Dec 1 '18 at 12:01
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, I didn't even know that there are two classes of satellite phones. The articles are rather sparse with information. $\endgroup$
    – srtlg
    Dec 1 '18 at 12:11
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    $\begingroup$ Not sure this "question" is on topic. Because it is actually not a question... $\endgroup$
    – kebs
    Dec 1 '18 at 13:21
  • $\begingroup$ How come this incident does not appear on avherald? avherald.com $\endgroup$ Dec 1 '18 at 13:26
  • $\begingroup$ Article from Aviation Today with a little more detail. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Dec 1 '18 at 17:13

Satellite phones would be for passenger use. Over land, ATC uses VHF/UHF radio, and over sea, ATC uses HF radio or (text-based) satellite data links.

Based solely on the quotes in the question, it sounds like a power distribution panel in the aircraft failed, leaving them with no radios. There are procedures for aircraft with failed radios to continue flight, but it's a lot of extra work for both the flight crew and ATC. And who knows what other equipment on the same power panel was affected.

Having a satellite phone available means the crew may be able to contact ATC and arrange a diversion and landing faster and more easily than the usual no-radio (NORDO) procedures allow, but neither ATC nor the crew would want to operate that way for any longer than necessary to land safely.

Also, specific to a Head of State, the protection detail would want to reassure their comrades on the ground that the aircraft hasn't been attacked or hijacked, and they would also prefer any problems be repaired at home by people they've already vetted to reduce the risk of espionage or sabotage.


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