Kenya Airways Boeing 787 Lost Communication Over Germany

Flight KQ118 is a regularly scheduled service between Nairobi (Kenya) and Amsterdam (Netherlands). Operated by a Boeing 787-8, the September 20th flight of this service had lost communications with air traffic controllers over Germany, prompting two fighter jets to be dispatched.

Kenya Airways Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner 5Y-KZC
Kenya Airways uses the Boeing 787-8 for its long-haul operations. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Near the end of an eight-hour flight

Flight KQ118 had departed Nairobi seven minutes after midnight on September 20th. The flight is technically scheduled to depart at 11:59 on September 19th but took off slightly late.

Destined for Amsterdam, this flight will pass through several countries on its way to the Netherlands. After leaving Kenyan airspace, the aircraft will overfly countries like Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, and a number of European nations. The last country to be overflown before entering Dutch airspace is Germany.

KQ118 flight
The last portion of the aircraft’s flight path. Photo: RadarBox.com

Supersonic wake-up call

The incident occurred in Germany when the Boeing 787-8, registered as 5Y-KZE, could not be contacted. Unable to be reached, The Aviation Herald reports that German forces dispatched two Eurofighter jets to intercept the airliner.

En-route at a typical cruising altitude of FL400 (approximately 40,000 feet), communication with the aircraft was lost. WIth the two Eurofighters dispatched to intercept the aircraft, the sonic booms caused by the supersonic fighter jets also acted as unintended “wake-up” calls to many German residents. The Aviation Herald notes that disruption was reported from Landshut to Frankfurt/Main.

Since flight tracking data from RadarBox.com has the aircraft as flying over Germany, between the two areas, from 04:06 to 04:26 UTC, we can assume that the incident took place within this window of time. With a two-hour time difference from UTC, we can see that sonic booms would have been experienced sometime between 06:00 and 06:30 local time on a Monday morning.

Given the location where communication loss was experienced, many have speculated that the crew of the aircraft failed to switch frequencies when moving from Austrian airspace to German airspace.

German_eurofighter
Two German Eurofighters were dispatched to check on the aircraft. Photo: Krasimir Grozev via Wikimedia Commons 

With the fighters able to intercept the 787 and get their attention, communication was restored. The Dreamliner then continued on to Amsterdam for a safe landing approximately 30 minutes later.

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Why are fighter jets in particular dispatched?

There are multiple reasons for dispatching or ‘scrambling’ fighter jets in particular.

The first is that the jets and their pilots are most able to respond in a reasonable amount of time if there is an emergency or situation onboard the non-responsive aircraft. Indeed, many countries have quick-reaction forces on standby for situations such as these- with supersonic fighter jets best able to reach a commercial aircraft in a short amount of time.

Secondly, and more seriously, fighter jets will be able to potentially shoot down the aircraft. As the Telegraph notes, however, “such a decision would have to be taken at the highest political level.” The ability to ‘down’ a commercial aircraft full of civilians has become more of a possibility since the tragic events of 2001, over two decades ago, where hijacked commercial jets themselves were used as weapons of destruction.

Ultimately, the goal of scrambling any type of aircraft for a non-responsive flight is clear: Re-establish communications and make sure everything is operating as usual with the flight. Jets scrambled to check-in can ensure that pilots haven’t fallen asleep, the flight hasn’t been hijacked, and that radio communications are actually working (and on the correct frequency).

Let us know what your thoughts and reactions are to this incident by leaving a comment!

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