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Friday, 11 February, 2000, 11:33 GMT
Safety fears for hijack plane

Ariana 727 Ariana Airlines may have to meet cost of repairs

The Afghan plane at the centre of the Stansted hijack drama is likely to be held in Britain for several days until stringent safety tests have been carried out.

The owners of the Boeing 727 are calling for the aircraft to be returned to Afghanistan quickly so it can be used to carry people to Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Experts in the UK will examine the plane and decide whether it meets the high standards required to fly through international air space.

If the jet passes the inspection, then Ariana will have to send a crew to the UK to fly it back.

If the aircraft fails the tests, then it is reported that Ariana will have to meet the cost of any repairs.

David Stewart, spokesman for the UK's department of environment, transport and the regions, the body responsible for the plane's inspection, said: "We need to satisfy ourselves that this aircraft will be safe to fly, especially after a hijack.

"It is a domestic aircraft but it would need to meet international standards."

A Stansted Airport spokesman said the plane would not have been allowed into this country under normal circumstances because it would not have met the necessary safety standards.

UN sanctions

The annual Hajj pilgrimage is the only time that state-owned Ariana Airlines is permitted to make flights outside Afghanistan.

The ban on international flights is part of UN sanctions imposed in November 1999 to press the Taleban to hand over Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden to the United States or to a third country for trial.

Airline employee Mohammed Daoud Sharafi told the Associated Press news agency he hoped the plane would return soon.

"We are concerned about our plane because in a few days we are planning to send people on Hajj in Saudi Arabia," he said.

Ariana Airlines has an ageing fleet of four Boeing 727 aircraft and five Russian-made Antonov passenger aircraft.

The UN sanctions put an end to maintenance that previously was carried out in the United Arab Emirates.

Standards of repair are considered extremely poor by international standards, and three Ariana aircraft have crashed in the last three years.

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See also:
06 Feb 00 |  South Asia
Ariana: Flying in the face of adversity
10 Feb 00 |  South Asia
Analysis: Afghan hijack aftermath
10 Feb 00 |  UK
Asylum: What now for the hostages and hijackers?
09 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Millions begin Mecca pilgrimage

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