KLM Boeing 777 Makes 6 Hour Flight To Nowhere Following Fault

A KLM Boeing 777 returned to Amsterdam on Wednesday following a problem with onboard equipment. KL591 was due to fly to Johannesburg, however, ended up making a 6-hour flight from Amsterdam to Amsterdam.

KLM, Boeing 777, Weather Radar
A KLM Boeing 777 had to return to Amsterdam with weather radar issues. Photo: KLM

Every now and again a flight to nowhere takes place. This is the phraseology used for a flight that lands where it departs. Almost all of these flights involve airplanes with faults. However, occasionally they can be used for special flights such as Qantas’ Boeing 747 flights around the Antarctic. Unfortunately, this situation involved the former.

What happened?

KLM’s flight 591 is scheduled to fly from Amsterdam to Johannesburg daily. The flight typically takes anywhere between 10 hours and 10-hours 30-minutes. However, on Wednesday it took just 6 hours and 13 minutes. Why? The flight never made it to Johannesburg.

Instead, it made a U-turn over Algeria, before returning to Amsterdam with a little detour over France. Due to the limitations of radar coverage over Africa, it is not possible to ascertain where exactly the aircraft turned around, however, global ADS-B coverage provided by satellite is in the works.

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KLM, Boeing 777, Weather Radar
The aircraft did a U-turn over Algeria. Photo: FlightRadar24.com

After turning around, the aircraft went on to land at Amsterdam at 16:26 local time, having taken off at 10:13 earlier that day. The flight was eventually canceled. The Aviation Herald reports that the aircraft turned around after both of its weather radars had failed. It is also reported that the fuel quantity indicator was faulty.

This is the second time recently that a KLM aircraft en route to Africa has turned around. On July 30th, a KLM Boeing 747 en route to Nairobi turned around over Greece. That aircraft went on to divert to Frankfurt before returning to Amsterdam. It’s next attempt at the flight the next day was, however, successful.

KLM, Boeing 777, Weather Radar
The aircraft made a successful landing in Amsterdam without incident. Photo: Boeing

Why return to base?

You may be wondering why the crew opted to return to Amsterdam as opposed to fixing the issue on the ground in South Africa, or even after the return flight to Amsterdam. Being KLM’s hub, Amsterdam has mechanics on call, in addition to a library of parts. This means that the carrier is able to keep repairs in house, keeping costs down. Had the aircraft continued on to Johannesburg, KLM would’ve needed to find somebody there to fix the problem, likely at a much higher price.

The aircraft returned to Amsterdam in order to complete the fix. It is likely that had it continued on to South Africa, the fix would be needed before the aircraft flew again. Simple Flying contacted a KLM representative for comment, however, we are yet to hear back.

Were you onboard KL591 during the flight? Let us know in the comments!

10 comments
  1. Well seeing as how it got cancelled, they must have know they did not have the parts even in Amsterdam.

    So might as well get it back to the hub.

  2. Did you consider that KLM procedures preclude flying over Africa (or any non-radar airspace) without a properly operating weather radar? It might have had nothing to due with Joberg being “to expensive” to fix the plane.

    1. Yeah I’d agree the more likely reason for turning around is the pilots didn’t feel comfortable flying through the tropics at night without weather radar. I’m also fairly confident that any labor savings from returning to Amsterdam were wiped out by fuel burn and passenger accomodations resulting from returning to Amsterdam.

  3. The article states Wednesday unless there where two incidents it happened on Friday the 9 of August 2019. I was on board the flight that turned around .

  4. Does it not seem like KLM is operating an aging fleet? I wonder if you could publish some insights into their fleet, and fleet renewal plans (if any), and if this is all part of them “doing their own thing” in the Air France-KLM partnership.

  5. Interesting that on the return the flight path followed a route taking it over Marseille, Lyon, Paris, and then on to Amsterdam rather than the more direct route further east that it had followed on departure. There was note of a fuel indicator malfunction. All of those cities have major airports with runways suitable for 777 if an emergency landing was required.

  6. In this situation, do you think having the aircraft equipped with a data communication path to the ground to allow for real-time monitoring of critical aircraft systems help for safety and maintenance crew?

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