The showdown took place Tuesday after the aircraft, which was carrying only a pilot and first officer, departed from Spain’s Málaga–Costa del Sol Airport and approached German airspace. At the time, airline officials were hoping to return the plane to Norwegian Air’s base in Stockholm, Sweden, ahead of Boeing’s software update release for the jet.
A spokesperson for the airline told Business Insider that the flight had already been greenlit by both the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation and the European Aviation Safety Agency.
"Just before entering German airspace both the German and French authorities sent a notice that prohibited repositioning flights of the Boeing 737 Max in their airspace," Norwegian Air said in a statement.
Flight-tracking data released by website FlightRadar24 shows the rejected plane flew in a circle above the French region of Moselle at least three times before aborting the flight and eventually being allowed to land at France’s Châlons Vatry Airport for refueling.
— Tamer Sedky (@tsedky73) June 13, 2019
When speaking to representatives for Deutsche Flugsicherung, Germany’s air traffic control body, the Business Insider was informed that German authorities determined that all Max 8 flights would be banned from the country’s airspace until September 8. They added that those details were passed on to Norwegian Air.
However, there’s the rub, because, according to the Norwegian Air spokesperson, the airline was never handed that bit of necessary information. "If we had received any contrary information, we obviously wouldn't have taken off,” said the spokesperson.
The European Aviation Safety Agency barred the Max 8 planes from traveling through European airspace on March 12, days after an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max 8 plane crashed after takeoff, killing all 157 passengers and crew onboard. That crash came just five months after the October 2018 crash of a Lion Air 737 Max 8, which killed all 189 people onboard.
According to Aerotime News, although Europe’s regulator prohibited the commercial flight of Max 8 planes, it’s up to each country within the European Union to decide whether the jetliner is allowed to travel through its airspace during repositioning missions.
In both crashes, the Max 8’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) was cited as a potential cause. The system is a safety measure that is intended to push the plane’s nose down in the event it reaches too high an altitude and is at risk of stalling.
It has been reported that it may take longer for the aircraft to return to the skies above Europe than in the US, since the European Aviation Safety Agency has indicated that the new updates also have to meet the agency’s own requirements.