TUI Relocates A Boeing 737 MAX Avoiding Germany

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Yesterday afternoon, FlightRadar24 noticed a “ferry flight” of a TUI Boeing 737 MAX going from Sofia, Bulgaria back to its base in the Netherlands. Most interestingly, the flight took a round-about route avoiding German airspace. The MAX is banned in German airspace.

TUI Boeing 737 MAX London Gatwick
TUI has six 737 MAX in its possession with another three on order. Photo: Boeing

The tweet

We first took notice of the flight when Flightradar24 tweeted about it:

Clicking on their link we can see the flight path the 737 MAX takes to get back to its ‘home base’ in the Netherlands. Flight TFL064F left Sofia at 12:19 PM and arrived at its destination at 3:48 PM for a total flight time of four hours and 29 minutes.

Four hours and 29 minutes is a little bit lengthy for a flight between the two cities. Usually, a flight like that would take a little under three hours. You can see this by looking at Bulgarian Air’s flight FB462 below:

Bulgarian Air’s FB 462. Photo: FlightRadar24

Why did TFL064F take as long as it did? Well, this particular flight had to make its way around German airspace because of the 737 MAX ban. This can be seen with FlightRadar24’s coverage of the flight below:

TUI’s Boeing 737 MAX with registration PH-TFO. Photo: FlightRadar24

As Aerotime News reports, each European country remains sovereign of its airspace. France allows specific authorizations for ferry flights. However, Germany’s NOTAM is clear and unequivocal:

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“any flight with the types Boeing 737 MAX 8 and Boeing 837 MAX 9 within the airspace of the Federal Republic of Germany is prohibited”.

This was first made clear when a Norwegian 737 MAX was denied entry into Germany and instead landed in France. The Boeing 737 MAX 8 with registration SE-RTB flew on June 11, 2019, from Spain’s Malaga airport (AGP) to return to the carriers’ base in Stockholm (ARN), Sweden.

We reached out to TUI for a comment. They didn’t have much to say but here it is:

“There is no specific information since we just ferried back the empty airplane to its home base Amsterdam. These flights are in accordance with EASA regulation.” -TUI Spokesperson

Scattered MAX aircraft

So what was the 737 MAX doing in Bulgaria? We imagine that the aircraft – registration PH-TFO – was stuck in Bulgaria the moment the European Union Aviation Safety Agency grounded all passenger travel utilizing the 737 MAX in the wake of the second crash.

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As soon as groundings were imposed, 737 MAX aircraft all over the world found themselves ‘stuck’ at whatever airports they were at. Or, if they were in the air, whatever airports they were destined to land at. One by one, ferry flights have taken place to re-repatriate the scattered aircraft.

It’s possible that the airports many of these planes were at no longer wanted them taking up parking space. Now PH-TFO can take up a space in Amsterdam and slowly eat up maintenance funds there. As for the other three 737 MAX jets TUI has on order from Boeing, they’re taking up space outside Boeing’s manufacturing facilities (other jets are filling up Boeing’s employee parking spaces). You can actually see all three of them in this photo:

Notice the three TUI tail-fins in this photo – indicative of the three 737 MAX on order but undelivered. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

TUI 737 MAX service from LGW in 2020

TUI plans to have the aircraft fly from London Gatwick from April 2020.

According to Routes Online, each service will operate once a week starting from the 1st of April 2020. Flights will operate to:

  • Rhodes – 1st April to 29th April;
  • Malta – 2nd April to 30th April;
  • Tenerife South – 3rd April to 24th April;
  • Chambery – 4th April to 18th April;
  • Faro – 5th April to 26th April;
  • Heraklion – 5th April to 26th April;
  • Dalaman – 6th April to 27th April;
  • Marrakech – 7th April to 28th April.
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