Page 1 of 1

LH648 FRA – FRA – ALA, Or...

Posted: Wed Nov 23, 2005 1:35 pm
by ZakHH
... "messages you don't want to hear onboard an airborne aircraft".

First of all, before giving a misleading impression: no, the whole incident was not really dramatic. Still, it was one of the more eventful flights in my life.

Sat 19 Nov 2005. The whole day started as usual. I slept far too long, got up at 7:00am instead of 6:00, left the house at 7:45 instead of 7:00 and arrived at HAM airport at 08:05 instead of 07:30, with my flight to FRA leaving at 08:30. Luckily, everything went very smooth, no queues neither at the ticket counter, nor at the check-in desk, and boarding started with 15 minutes delay. So I was lucky once again and managed to catch my flight even without being forced to run.

HAMFRA (LH007) was uneventful, to say the least. I fell asleep right after takeoff and woke up no earlier than upon touching ground at FRA at 09:45. I then had more than 2 hours to stay at FRA before LH648 to ALA was scheduled to leave at 12:30. I planned this intentionally, as I prefer to do a bit of shopping, eating and bird-watching at FRA to hurrying for my connecting flight.

So I spent a relaxing hour at McDonald's in terminal B, watching several B74x touching down (mostly LH, but also 1 SQ) and an LH A34x performing a rather smoky landing.

After buying some gifts for my wife who waited for me in Almaty, I took the Skyline train back to terminal A in order to check in for my flight to ALA. Boarding started in time and went rather quickly, thanks to the plane being more than half-empty. Soon, we were pushed back and queued for take-off well in time.

LH serves FRA – ALA with one of their two A330-200. As far as I know, they got these 2 a/c from SQ, anyway they are the only LH planes to offer PTV in Y-class. The inflight magazine announced "A Beautiful Mind", which I had not seen yet, so I was looking forward to a rather comfortable flight. As the plane was half-empty, I switched to an empty middle-row before take-off.

We took off smoothly and started climbing out of FRA. It was a couple of minutes after we were airborne that I started to wonder what was going on. Even though I was sitting in a middle row, I could see both wings through the windows, and noticed the flaps were still deployed. I wondered what that could mean. The captain would not have forgotten to... no, he won't, I reassured myself.

When another couple of minutes later we stopped climbing and accelerating at only 4000m and 380 km/h, I was rather sure we had some technical problems. It took another 15 minutes before the captain's voice was heard on the PA, speaking the words no one really likes to hear onboard of an airborne a/c:

"Ladies and Gentleman, this is your captain speaking. I'm sorry, but I have to inform you that we are currently experiencing technical problems that may keep us from continuing our journey to Almaty..."

He then explained briefly that the flaps would not retract, what this meant and why an a/c has flaps at all, and that the situation was not dangerous, but could force us to return to FRA if they were not able to solve the problem. They were currently in touch with their "tech hotline" and tried to get rid of the problem by resetting several systems. He promised to keep us updated on the progress.

All in all, I think he chose the best words to explain the situation. Even though you could feel a certain tension rising, everyone stayed quite calm and relaxed. Especially the Russians on board seemed not to bother at all – these folks seem to cope with such situations better than most Germans would, as it was mostly Germans who started looking nervous, holding hands with their partners, one even started praying.

For me, it was the first time I experienced such a situation myself. I was not nervous as I know at least the very basics of flying and thus knew that it would be no problem at all to land an a/c with deployed flaps. Only one thought briefly disturbed me: was that really the only problem we had, or was it perhaps just one part of some larger problem? Anyway, I decided that such thoughts are just in vain, as I could do fairly nothing anyway, apart from trusting that the captain knew what he was doing.

Some 10 minutes later, the captain spoke again, informing us that they were unable to solve the problem, and that we would have to return to FRA. He assured again that this was not really a bad problem, that we were completely safe and that we could expect just a normal landing in FRA.

At that time, we were northeast of Nuremberg, so it would take us some 45 minutes to return to FRA. The plane started circling over the area, maybe to dump fuel (I could not see that from my seat) or just for waiting to get cleared for the approach to FRA. After performing 2 full circles, we started heading back towards FRA.

I decided to change seats again, as I spotted an empty window seat in the back of the plane and wanted to have a better view on the landing. I asked the f/a if it was okay with her, but she obviously misinterpreted my request and thought that I may be terribly nervous, so she tried to calm me down. I assured her that this was not necessary ar all and I just wanted to watch our approach. I came to think she was much more nervous than I was  Smile .

10 minutes before landing, the captain spoke once again, telling us that we may be greeted by a couple of fire trucks upon touchdown. This would be a standard procedure and really did not mean anything, so we should not be alarmed by the sight. At this point, I considered visiting the lavatory – no, not because I was alarmed, but as I had to bite my own ass for having checked in my camera equipment along with my baggage. That was certainly the worst idea I could have that day – the thought of some fire trucks chasing our a/c and me not being able to shoot this really made my day...

(Btw, usually I would always take at least my small Casio Exilim onboard, but this time I had more handluggage than usual, plus I traveled this route countless times before and did not expect anything unusual to happen... bad idea!)

So we finally approached FRA, and – surprise, surprise – it was a completely normal landing. If there were any fire trucks, I did not see them. The only thing I did see upon turning into the APRON was an airport maintenance car that hurried down the runway behind us.

We then headed for a parking position and were informed that a replacement aircraft was prepared within 1 hour, so that we could continue the journey as soon as possible. What really annoyed me (and what I will write a complaint to LH about): we were then sitting more than 1 hour in our A332 and were not served anything to drink. The cabin crew was obviously busy switching everything over to the new a/c (an A343) that meanwhile parked next to us, so we felt rather forgotten.

Finally, we were ready to board the new a/c. Even though it parked right next to us, we had to go the few meters by bus. Still, upon exiting the bus, I had a nice view on a JAL Cargo 747 leaving it's parking position, being flanked by 2 parking cargo MD11s. For the second time that day I really missed my camera. But also without it, the sight of a 747 heading right towards you is truly amazing.

We boarded the A343 and few minutes later took off for ALA the second time that day. This time, the flaps were succesfully retracted, and soon, we were finally served something to drink. The flight itself was rather uneventful. I had some quite delicious beef stripes with pasta and vegetables, and we encountered some mild turbulences above the Ural mountains – nothing to write home about.

The final adventure greeted us upon approaching Almaty airport. The whole area was covered under a cloud of very dense fog, plus it was snowing heavily around the airport. When we dived into the cloud, I realized the fog was so dense that I was unable to see #4 engine anymore – visibility was well below 25m.

The fog lasted until few meters above the ground, so when we left the fog cloud and I could see the snow-covered ground right below us, I realized much to my dismay that I could not spot any runway underneath us. The pilot obviously only then realized that he came in much too low and gave full thrust to the engines right away, which helped us touching down on the very first meters of the runway, right on the piano keys. Obviously, he also did not hit the middle of the runway and had to make quite some corrections upon braking, which caused the a/c to perform rather scary moves on the snow-covered runway. I can honestly say that this was the scariest landing I ever experienced in my life. I acknowledge that maybe it was not as bad as it looked and felt – but it did look and feel very bad, that much is for sure.

By the way, same flight next day, a business friend of mine made exactly the same experience under the same weather conditions, only this time the pilot performed a go-around after what was obviously a very bad first approach.

So that was my journey to ALA, where I still am these days. Wheather is fine, sunny and clear winter time with temperatures around 0°C. I hope that I will find time to go skiing at Mt. Shymbulak (great resort!) before returning to Germany together with my wife next saturday. We both really hope that that flight will be less eventful.

Hope you enjoyed my first trip report on, the next may be about our journey to Mauritius in December, though I honestly hope that there will be not so much to report about  Wink
Btw, if I used any strange technical expressions (or non-technical ones as well  Wink ), please forgive me - English is not my mother tongue, plus I'm neither a pilot nor a flight expert, but just a bloody pax Big grin


RE: LH648 FRA – FRA – ALA, Or...

Posted: Wed Nov 23, 2005 5:19 pm
by HT
Great report ! Sharp, crisp and not spoilt by meaningless pic´s - that´s the way I like it.

Quoting ZakHH (Thread starter):
one of their two A330-200. As far as I know, they got these 2 a/c from SQ

Those A332´s are ex-SN.

Quoting ZakHH (Thread starter):
the next may be about our journey to Mauritius in December

Lucky you ! Have fun !

Quoting ZakHH (Thread starter):
Btw, if I used any strange technical expressions (or non-technical ones as well ), please forgive me

no problem at all.


RE: LH648 FRA – FRA – ALA, Or...

Posted: Wed Nov 23, 2005 7:32 pm
by Lp0815
Good report, congrats!

As HT correctly stated, the 2 A332 are ex SN birds.
IIRC, the registrations should be D-AIMD and D-AIMB.
From time to time they are deployed on the FRA-TLV route as LH 690 as well.

Glad nobody was in danger during this flight.

Enjoy your stay in ALA and write a TR for the way back if time permits.



RE: LH648 FRA – FRA – ALA, Or...

Posted: Wed Nov 23, 2005 8:14 pm
by Sabena 690
Thank you for sharing this interesting experience with us!

I'm glad to see that the cockpit crew kept you informed, as communication is very important in those situations.

Quoting Lp0815 (Reply 2):
IIRC, the registrations should be D-AIMD and D-AIMB.

Not correct: D-AIMB does not belong to the LH-fleet anymore. The only two A332's left are D-AIMD and D-AIME (ex-Sabena OO-SFT and OO-SFU).


RE: LH648 FRA – FRA – ALA, Or...

Posted: Wed Nov 23, 2005 11:12 pm
by HT
Quoting Sabena 690 (Reply 3):
I'm glad to see that the cockpit crew kept you informed, as communication is very important in those situations.

That exactly is what NOT did happen when my GA B-744 back in 1998 discontinued climb out of BKK enroute to FRA and we landed about 75 minutes later at BKK again. Only when back on the ground we found out that apparently some parts of the landing gear would not retract.

RE: LH648 FRA – FRA – ALA, Or...

Posted: Wed Nov 23, 2005 11:24 pm
by Contact Air
Great report, very interesting!

Obviously the crew managed the situation quite professionally.


RE: LH648 FRA – FRA – ALA, Or...

Posted: Thu Nov 24, 2005 9:19 pm
by StarFlyer
Nice read, thank you!

Quoting ZakHH (Thread starter):

I've been on that flight a couple of times myself, you just gotta love that flight number!  Smile



RE: LH648 FRA?FRA?ALA, Or...

Posted: Fri Nov 25, 2005 8:32 am
by musapapaya
For the people who always bash LH:
Now we can see how this has been handled in a very professional way. LH has a very good reputation on their technical excellence backed up by the world famous LH Technik. You should feel safe that you are on one of the world's safest airline. So sometimes we need to get a balance between the two really - service and reliability. Many airlines who has very good services like BA or CX have relatively more technical problem.
Thanks for sharing the report, but I guess a trip to Almaty might not have too much fuel on the plane? I bet there would not be any fuel dump, dont know if I am right or not though?

RE: LH648 FRA – FRA – ALA, Or...

Posted: Fri Nov 25, 2005 1:31 pm
by ZakHH
First of all, thanks to all of you for the great feedback.

Indeed, I would agree that the crew handled the situation quite professionally, especially the communication was indeed very good. The only bad aspect was that the passengers were not taken care of after the return to FRA. About that, I already wrote a complaint to LH, and will let you know upon their response.

About fuel dumping: my guess is also that we did not dump any fuel, and that the circling was done for mere waiting. Anyway, I couldn't see it from my seat. I guess that the a/c was rather fully fueled, as FRA - ALA is more than 5000km, and as far as I know, they do the roundtrip without refueling in ALA (at least that's how it was handled until a couple of years ago, I don't know if it is still the same today).

As for LH's reliability: generally, I would agree with Musapapaya that LH is a fairly reliable carrier, but in my opinion, reliability does not only mean that such situations are handled in a professional way, but that they would not occur at all. I acknowledge that you can never fully exclude such problems, but on LH's FRA-ALA service, they happen a bit too often, as far as I am concerned. This is the 5th time in the past ~14 months I got to know that an LH A332 either had to return to FRA, or did not take off at all due to technical problems. And I do not watch every flight, that is only what I experienced myself (it's just great driving to Almaty airport at 03:00 in the night and then having to wait 4 hours for your delayed flight to FRA), or what I heard from business friends.

I included this matter in my complaint to Lufthansa, asking them if perhaps the technical state of their 2 A332 would not match LH standards.

RE: LH648 FRA?FRA?ALA, Or...

Posted: Fri Nov 25, 2005 9:58 pm
by musapapaya
Thanks for your feedback ZakHH.
I really did not recognize that LH has quite these things happening especially with the 332. About the 2 ex SN 332 that are generally more unreliable, will it be due to that LH outsource its maintenance work to other companies or so?
I realize that flaps is a very important thing, it is still ok it cant retract but if upon landing it cant be depolyed and then they have to do a flapless landing - which is really dangerous, then it would be a wide media coverage.

RE: LH648 FRA – FRA – ALA, Or...

Posted: Fri Nov 25, 2005 10:15 pm
by ZakHH
Quoting Musapapaya (Reply 9):
...but if upon landing it cant be depolyed and then they have to do a flapless landing - which is really dangerous...

Same thing came to my mind while we were returning to FRA, and I'd like to ask someone who has more knowledge on flight physics than I have.

If flaps won't deploy for landing, it would usually "only" mean that the landing speed has to be higher than usual, meaning the a/c would need a longer runway for braking. That should be not too big a problem in ALA, as the runway is rather long (14400 ft / 4400 m). Or is there more problems connected to flapless landings?

RE: LH648 FRA?FRA?ALA, Or...

Posted: Sat Nov 26, 2005 4:24 am
by musapapaya
Well, just my 2 cents:
The landing speed will be so fast and the rate of descent will be higher that the landing gear could collapse? If they have to do a flapless landing I am kind of sure that they need to burn off their fuel to minimize the weight of the aircraft?
Please any comments on these?
Best regards.

RE: LH648 FRA – FRA – ALA, Or...

Posted: Sat Dec 24, 2005 10:59 pm
by mika
Thanks for the detailed report ZakHH, i made the same trip about the same time last year (two days after you) and the only problems i encountered then was a 2 hr delay at ALA when the de-icing crew ran out of fluid to de-ice (welll, actually it was more of a de-snowing) our AC.

By the way, if i may ask, how come you and your wife spend time in Almaty? Just out of curiosoty. I have to say that it's a very beautiful city, the mountains and nature is astounding. I found this out when i visited my kazakh ex girlfriend there last year.

Merry Christmas to each and all here by the way!


RE: LH648 FRA – FRA – ALA, Or...

Posted: Sun Dec 25, 2005 5:20 am
by ZRHnerd
Very good read, keep them coming.

RE: LH648 FRA – FRA – ALA, Or...

Posted: Mon Jan 02, 2006 9:52 pm
by ZakHH
Meanwhile, I received Lufthansa's answer on my complaint. Took them 5 weeks, and the letter is nothing more than a choice of several standard phrases: we regret that your flight was not carried out as scheduled, rest assured that we have a high technical maintenance standard, however such problems cannot always be avoided, we regret to hear that you were not happy with our onboard service and have notified the appropriate division, we hope that we can welcome you onboard a Lufthansa flight soon again.

Well, thank you...

@Mika: sorry for the late reply, I was all offline for some days.

My wife is actually from Almaty. I work in a forwarding company that is specialized on Central Asia (shameless self-promotion  Wink ), and she is head of our Almaty office - that's how we met.

We married in September and live in Hamburg now, but we still have to travel a lot to Almaty, which will certainly not change in 2006. And I don't mind that at all, as I fully agree with you - Almaty is a very interesting and generally underestimated city
If only the air would not be that polluted... But the whole area is amazing. Mt. Chimbulak is great for skiing, Kapchagai is nice during summer, Charyn canyon is spectacular, and I hope that we will make it to lake Issyk-Kul and / or lake Balchash this summer.


RE: LH648 FRA – FRA – ALA, Or...

Posted: Tue Mar 28, 2006 11:32 pm
by CV990

Well I wouldn't mind to have the same experience u got in yr. flight to Almaty!!! Two flights in two different airplanes in the same trip it's awesome! I'm telling u this because in September I'll probably fly the same route with maybe they do the same ( just kidding of course..)! Meanwhile tell me about Almaty/Kasakshtan, did u like the experience beeing there? Any highlights u would like to share????