An Ethiopian Airlines cargo plane flying from Addis Ababa to Zambia accidentally landed at an airport that is still under construction, a government and airline official said on Monday.
The plane hit the runway Sunday at the unfinished airport in Zambia’s northern Copperbelt province, which is currently served by Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport some 15 kilometers (nine miles) away.
Permanent Secretary of the Transport Ministry, Misheck Lungu, said the pilot had landed at the future Copperbelt International Airport “by mistake.”
“When he was about to land, he was communicating with the radar and they said, ‘We can’t see you,'” Lungu told AFP.
“So he used his eyesight because he had no control and landed at an airport that was still under construction.”
Lungu added that there was no damage and said investigators would issue a “full report” on the incident.
Subsequently, the pilot flew the plane to its original destination.
Ethiopian Airlines confirmed the incident and said the details were being investigated in cooperation with Zambian authorities.
In an emailed response to AFP, a spokesman said the pilots had not been notified of the construction of a new airport with “the same runway heading orientation” as the existing one.
“The fact that there was no NOTAM (notice to airmen) … and the proximity between the two airports may have contributed to the incident,” the spokesperson said.
Zambia is the second largest copper producer in Africa, and most of the ore is found in the so-called Copperbelt.
The opening of the province’s new airport built in China was initially scheduled for mid-2020, but was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Upon completion, the $ 397 million facility will have a greater cargo capacity than its predecessor, with improved amenities and 3,500 meters (yards) of runway.
Cargo flights have helped Ethiopian Airlines remain financially viable during the pandemic, with Africa’s largest airline repurposing dozens of passenger jets as cargo carriers.
str-burs-sch / gd