The German flag carrier Lufthansa has accidentally whipped up a diplomatic storm over sovereignty of the Falkland Islands – an archipelago and British Overseas Territory located around 300 miles east off the coast of South America. The British have claimed control of the Falkland Islands since 1833 but Argentina maintains that what it calls Islas Malvinas is Argentinian sovereign territory and the UK’s presence on the islands is illegal.
Lufthansa sparked renewed bickering over the island’s sovereignty on Wednesday when it announced that it would operate two special charter flights from Hamburg to Mount Pleasant on the Falkland Islands for a polar climate change research expedition to Antarctica.
Scientists setting off on Antarctic missions normally fly to the Falklands from Europe via South Africa but with the COVID-19 situation worsening, Lufthansa agreed to operate its longest flight ever to deliver the team to the Falklands on a 13,700 km, 15-hour non-stop flight.
All 92 passengers, along with the pilots and flight attendants are currently in the middle of a two-week quarantine before the first charter flight departs on February 1. The second will depart on March 30. Lufthansa said that planning for the trip had been meticulous but organisers probably didn’t account for diplomatic sensitivities when they were making their flight plans.
Leaving no stone unturned, Lufthansa submitted an overflight and landing for the flight to Mount Pleasant with Argentina’s National Civil Aviation Administration (ANAC). The symbolism was not lost on Argentina’s foreign minister who claimed the application was a clear indication that Germany recognised Argentinian sovereignty of the archipelago.
The claim received a quick rebuttal from Germany’s foreign ministry, with a spokesperson saying it had no hand in submitting the overflight request. “The activities of private companies cannot be attributed to the Federal Republic of Germany and have no international consequences,” a statement from the ministry explained.
Lufthansa has also tried to distance itself from the claims, saying permission to land in Mount Pleasant was made to the Falkland Islands and not to Argentina. The airline had, however, requested the use of Argentine airspace and permission to land in the Patagonian town of Ushuaia as an alternative airport.
“This is mandatory in international air traffic and solely serves the purpose of conducting the charter flight. This request does not imply any claim towards to the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands,” a spokesperson for the airline commented on Friday.
In 1982, the Argentinian army invaded the Falkland Island’s leading to a brief war between Argentina and the United Kingdom. 907 people were killed during the 74-day conflict.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.