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I ran across this tweet covering the saga of Smartwings 1201, a 737 MAX 8 that was apparently redirected from Prague to Ankara after the MAX was grounded by the EU.

enter image description here
(flightaware.com)

It seems like an odd decision to do this. The plane had to divert and apparently spent quite a long time in circling before it was allowed to land in Turkey. Why was it not allowed to land at Prague as scheduled and be grounded there?

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    $\begingroup$ Notice that most of the flight path is over water. If the worst were to happen and it was to crash, there would be minimum damage to those on the ground. Of course, it would mean a significantly reduced chance of survival for those on board... $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Mar 14 at 15:44
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    $\begingroup$ @FreeMan Crash? Just because it is Boieng 737MAX it does not mean it should crash every minute! They are not THAT dangerous. $\endgroup$ – Vladimir F Mar 14 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ The oddest decision was the decision by the EU not to allow already airborne flights to continue to their destination, I would say. $\endgroup$ – TonyK Mar 14 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ @FreeMan, India banned the Max with enough notice time to avoid this nonsense. $\endgroup$ – bogl Mar 14 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby Fuel dumping isn't normally done unless the aircraft is overweight for landing or there is an emergency where they suspect a fire may ensue upon landing (such as stuck landing gear or something like that.) The reason the 737 has no fuel dumping ability is that its max landing weight isn't much less than its maximum takeoff weight. It would certainly not have been overweight for landing by that point in the flight. More likely, they were trying to figure out where on Earth they should go in light of the EASA decision. $\endgroup$ – reirab Mar 14 at 21:45
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There could be a lot of reasons for this...

  • EU closed airspace to 737's MAX 8's on March 12
  • They needed to go into a holding pattern until ATC figured out where to put them
  • They needed to be in the holding pattern until they could get a landing slot
  • They were redirected to an airport that had a maintenance facility that the airline uses
  • They redirected to an airport with code-share partners so they could rebook passengers without a major fee

Edit I'm not sure what is going on with FlightRadar24, but it shows that the plane continued to Prague the next day. It looks like they landed in Ankara then continued on to Prague. I'm not sure if the flight to Prague was just a repositioning flight, or if it had passengers.

Edit 2 Turkey subsequently (after this flight) also closed airspace to 737 MAX 8's. The EU closure allows for ferry flights, which are flights without passengers on board. The flight from Ankara to Prague was just a positioning flight so that the aircraft could be serviced when it came time to implement a fix from Boeing.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't get your first entry. If Turkey has closed their airspace, how come they were redirected to land there? $\endgroup$ – pipe Mar 14 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ @pipe They may have allowed the flight to land because it didn't have the fuel for a more appropriate diversion. I'm prettty sure the flight out of Ankara was a ferry flight to Prague. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Mar 14 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ @pipe pure speculation but it maybe that the airline was able to eventually negotiate permission to enter Turkish airspace as an exception to the ban. $\endgroup$ – Notts90 Mar 14 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ I guess even if a country bans certain planes from their airspace, they surely would allow them to land. If Turkey and neighbouring countries imposed the ban at the same time, the plane theoretically would have nowhere to go. $\endgroup$ – Dohn Joe Mar 14 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ @alephzero The original intent of the Airline was definitely to get to Prague. A different flight of the same airline from southwest was trying to get to Italy, as they seemed to be accepting flights already airborne, but this window closed as well aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/61040/… The EASA just refused to accept flights with a valid flightplan mid-air without any notice period. $\endgroup$ – Vladimir F Mar 14 at 17:18
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This is just because of the way EASA treated B737 MAX grounding. They just stopped accepting flights with these aircraft into the EU airspace even for already airborne flights with valid flight plans.

For this company two flights were involved. On from Cape Verde ended up in Tunisia and one from Dubai in Ankara. Both of them were originally hoping to get to the EU airspace until the perceived misunderstanding clears - because flights already airborne and with valid flight plans should be allowed to finished their flights, right, that sounds logical ... not to EASA...

So these aircraft had to land outside EU, get to PAX to the hotels, fly other types of airplanes for them and ferry the MAXes empty home to LKPR.

Other airplanes of the same company became stranded out of EU because they were doing flights between two out-of-EU destinations at the time of the ban and had to wait for a day to be allowed to ferry home.

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  • $\begingroup$ yeah, several flights ended up circling inside EASA airspace before being directed to the nearest airport with facilities to handle them and their passengers. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Mar 15 at 4:41
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There is no evidence that EASA refused Smart Wings QS 1201 to enter EU airspace. The EASA AD does not make any statement about airborne aircraft. Stopping operation mid-air is no option, and a last minute diversion does not contribute to the safety of the passengers.

It is more plausible that the airline had a hard time to decide what to do with this flight, considering all implications including but not limited to legal, operational, commercial and reputational aspects. The internal decision process might have looked similar to the flight track as shown in the question. ;)

Please see the answer of Paul Saccani in Who decided that the Boeing 737 MAX planes that were airborne when the grounding was issued cannot enter and land in EU air space?

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In the case of the EASA directive regarding the B737 MAX: all planes have to be grounded and those in flight weren't allowed to enter European Airspace. Therefore, the plane is trying to figure out where to land.

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    $\begingroup$ @Notts90 The directive does not state the urgency. Throwing the pax out of the door mid flight is no solution, and there is no reason why a diverted landing would be safer than the scheduled one. Common sense would strongly suggest to finish ongoing flights. $\endgroup$ – bogl Mar 14 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ @bogl I like you’re optimism regarding common sense! I think do not operate does imply a sense of urgency though. Without any quantification it, to me it implies immediately (or as as immediately as reasonably possible). $\endgroup$ – Notts90 Mar 14 at 15:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Notts90 Some B737 Max were admitted to land in EASA area after the directive. See airlinerwatch.com/…. Meanwhile, the Indians were a bit smarter. They indicated a date/time for the ban to become effective. thehindu.com/news/national/… Common sense is not evenly distributed, it seems. $\endgroup$ – bogl Mar 14 at 16:10
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    $\begingroup$ @bogl The DXB-PRG flight wasn't yet in European airspace. The two flights that were allowed to land were both already deep in European airspace and might not have had enough fuel to leave. One of them was a flight entirely within European airspace. There was probably no alternative but to allow those flights to land in Europe. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Mar 14 at 17:42
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    $\begingroup$ @bogl you're talking EU bureaucrats here, not logical beings... They closed EASA airspace even for flights already in EASA airspace. E.g. several TUI flights were forced to divert to airports in southern Europe, inside EASA airspace, when caught in the closure while already in EASA airspace on the way to airports further north from departures in Africa and the Middle East. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Mar 15 at 4:43

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