4 Jul 2009

Yemenia suspends flights following Comoros crash

9:57 pm on 4 July 2009

The operator of a Yemeni aircraft that crashed into the Indian Ocean off the Comoros this week has suspended all flights to the islands.

Only one person - a teenaged girl - survived when the Airbus A310 plunged into the sea as it came in to land at the Comoran capital Moroni, killing 152 people.

The aircraft had taken off from the Yemeni capital Sanaa, but many of the passengers had come from France aboard an Airbus A330 which flew the Paris-Marseille-Yemen leg of the flight.

The airline Yemenia says it has made the decision to suspend flights in light of serious incidents in recent days and major risks that some passengers posed to airport staff.

It says the decision applies until the situation eases.

The airline did not give details of the serious incidents it was referring to.

But a spokesperson for Aeroports de Paris, the Paris airports operator, said it had received a letter from Yemenia earlier on Friday, informing it of the decision to suspend the flights.

Comorans furious about airline's standards

Yemenia had already suspended flights from the southern French city of Marseille. The airline has faced furious protests from expatriate Comorans in France that its aircraft are dirty and badly maintained.

Comorans have long complained about the standard of flights from France to the Comoros islands and groups of protesters have blockaded Yemenia flight desks in Marseille and Paris since the accident, preventing some flights from taking off.

With a population of about 800,000, the formerly French-ruled Comoros archipelago comprises three islands off mainland east Africa and northwest of Madagascar. There is a large expatriate community in France.

The airline has come under scrutiny from authorities in Europe over air safety issues.

France had banned the A310 that crashed from its territory in 2007 after faults were found with it. European Union authorities wrote to Yemenia on Wednesday saying it faced a ban in the EU unless it gave assurances over recurring problems.

Separately, the French government has appointed an official as special ambassador to help the families of French victims of the crash and those who had been living in France.