Onur denies accusations

ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkish airline Onur Air, suspended by four European countries leaving 40,000 passengers stranded, denied on Sunday that it was operating defective aircraft and said it was redirecting its flights to Belgium. «We have begun to redirect our clients to Belgium, where we have chartered buses to take them to Holland, Germany and France,» Onur Air spokesman Rauf Gerz told AFP. Belgian authorities on Sunday gave Onur Air the green light to continue flying there. «We have adopted the strictest of attitudes and have checked everything. Up until now we have no information that would warrant ordering a complete ban,» Belgian Transport Minister Renaat Landuyt said. Gerz denied a report in Germany’s newspaper Bild am Sonntag that Onur Air’s planes had defective engines and worn-out tires, describing the report as a «campaign of denigration» against the company. «If it’s true, could we continue to transport passengers to the United Kingdom, Italy and Denmark?» he said. The Netherlands suspended Onur Air flights on Thursday, followed by France, Germany and Switzerland. Gerz said passengers would continue to be flown to Belgium until a solution was found with the various countries. «We hope that the problem will be solved Monday, or possibly in the coming days,» he said. Dutch, German and Turkish civil aviation officials were scheduled to hold talks in the Netherlands yesterday. It was not known if French or Swiss officials would take part. Gerz also denied that the airline had received numerous warnings from Dutch civil aviation authorities. «We have received nothing from the Dutch authorities until now, even their notice of suspension of flights wasn’t explained,» he said. Dutch officials told Bild am Sonntag that the defects were spotted several times during inspections over the last several weeks. Many of the stranded passengers have already found their way home. A spokesman for Belgium’s Charleroi airport confirmed that Onur Air was redirecting some of its flights there, adding that the airport south of Brussels had checked the carrier had all necessary authorizations. «We have known Onur Air for a number of years,» Pierre Fernemont said. «It’s a company with a good reputation in the market, so we consider, from a professional and commercial point of view, that the problem is temporary.» RTL-TVL television reporting out of Belgium said the airline was also flying into Brussels National Airport. Other Turkish and European airlines have been used to repatriate some 5,500 passengers from the southern Turkish resort of Antalya, and another 7,000 have been flown to Turkey, the Anatolia news agency quoted Onur officials as saying. Bild am Sonntag said Onur Air also lacked the mandatory insurance policies and that its pilots were not carrying their license when inspected. The airline’s executive director, Cankut Bagana, said Friday the company had had no accidents since it started operations in 1992. On Thursday, Dutch authorities informed Onur Air that it had been grounded for a month due to «serious safety deficiencies observed in respect of aircraft, operational procedures and aircraft handling,» according to a copy of the Dutch decision obtained by AFP. Similar suspensions were then put in place by Germany, France and Switzerland. Onur Air officials threatened to file a lawsuit if no explanation was given for the ban.