Malfunction forces AirAsia X to abort flight, turn back to Kuala Lumpur: Tony Fernandes

An aircraft operated by AirAsia X taxis on the runway at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, on July 6, 2013. -- PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
An aircraft operated by AirAsia X taxis on the runway at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, on July 6, 2013. -- PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - The pilots of an AirAsia X flight from Kuala Lumpur to Jeddah on Sunday aborted the flight and circled for hours to burn off fuel before landing safely in Malaysia, the AirAsia Group's boss said.

"One auto-thrust not functioning properly. Actually okay to fly but we just returning it to base," Tony Fernandes told AFP in a text message, calling it a "minor issue." He confirmed the plane landed safely at Kuala Lumpur's international airport late Sunday afternoon.

Malaysia's transport minister Liow Tiong Lai also confirmed the return of Flight D7172 in a tweet. 

"I was informed #D7172 with tech prob circling over Straits of Malacca. The plane has safely landed in klia," Mr Liow wrote on his Twitter account Sunday afternoon.

Flight D7172 took off from Kuala Lumpur at 11.15am and was bound for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It circled over the Straits of Malcca for more than four hours, raising concern among flight trackers. 

The incident also sparked fresh questions on social media about the Malaysian airline’s safety record as it struggles in the aftermath of the loss of Flight QZ8501 in late December with 162 people on board.

Flight-tracking websites indicated Flight D7172 flew several wide circles over the Strait of Malacca to burn off fuel.  Fernandes called the manouevre a “routine” precaution as the plane was heavily laden with fuel that normally would have been used up during the several-hour flight to the Saudi Arabian city.  

“Just burning off fuel as has lots of fuel as was going to Jeddah,” he said, adding that the plane would be changed and the flight would continue onward.  

Although QZ8501 was the AirAsia group’s first deadly accident, it followed two other deadly Malaysia Airlines incidents last year that killed over 500 people and raised concerns among many travellers about the safety of the country’s carriers.  

“What is happening with Malaysia and airplanes? This is really, really scary,” posted one Twitter user.  

Flight QZ8501 went down in stormy weather on Dec 28 in the Java Sea during what was supposed to be a short trip from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.  

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared last March after inexplicably diverting from its Kuala Lumpur-Beijing course. The airliner, carrying 239 people, is believed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean, but no trace has been found.  

MH17 went down last July in rebellion-torn eastern Ukraine – believed hit by a surface-to-air missile – killing all 298 aboard. Malaysia Airlines had previously had a solid safety record.