By Lei Yan
A Deep Dive Into the Aviastar Tu-204 Fire in Hangzhou
On Jan. 8, an Aviastar Airline’s Tupolev Tu-204 freighter caught on fire on the ground of Huangzhou, China’s Xiaoshan Airport. Thanks to the swift action by the airport firefighting crews, no one was hurt or killed during the accident. The plane was burnt into three pieces, and the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
The cargo flight 4B6534 was scheduled to take off at 4:40 a.m. local time, bonded for Novosibirsk, Russia with packages for online shoppers. The fire broke out just after the aircraft started to push back from parking bay 204. The fire started from inside of the aircraft and spread to the entire body. The airport rescue and firefighting (ARFF) crews were on the scene within two minutes after pilots reported the fire, and eight crew members are all safely rescued from the burning aircraft.
By the time of the accident, the aircraft was carrying 26 tons of aviation fuel, and the fuel was secured by the ARFF team. By successfully removing the aviation fuel from the aircraft, the ARFF team prevented the risk of a massive explosion caused by aviation fuel leakage.
The operations at the airport was not interrupted by this incident. No flights were delayed due to this accident.
As of this moment, the remains of the fatally damaged aircraft are still on the ramp. Considering the magnitude of damage, the aircraft will likely be dismantled at the stand, then transport to a facility for disposal. The aircraft with Cai Niao Logistics livery is still visually accessible by passengers traveling through the airport and spectators outside of the airport.
The Tupolev Tu-204 is painted with Cai Niao Logistics Livery. Cai Niao Logistics is a subsidiary of Alibaba, and Alibaba is headquartered in Hangzhou, China. The company is actively expanding its business overseas, including to Russia.
Only three Tupolev Tu-204 cargo jets are still in service today, all of which are operated by Aviastar. The carrier is a Moscow-based charter cargo airline operating three Tupolev Tu-204 and six Boeing 757-200PCFs. The airline encountered multiple safety incidents since 2010, and luckily, no fatal accidents occurred.
Similarly, on July 22, 2021, an Ethiopian Boeing 777-200F ET-ARH caught on fire while loading cargos at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airpot. No deaths or injuries were reported from the accident. However, the aircraft was fatally damaged, and it is still parked at Pudong Airport.
Before the Ethiopian accident, in 2019, an Air China Airbus A330-300 B-5958 bonded for Tokyo from Beijing caught on fire when boarding. The fire burnt through a hole at the top of the aircraft. As of this moment, the damaged aircraft is still parked in Air China’s hanger in Beijing, waiting to be scrapped.
The cause of both accidents was lithium battery-induced fire. After the fire on Ethiopian Freighter, Chinese airports tightened the controls for air freighting products with batteries.