By Lei Yan
A deep dive into the Aviastar Tu-204 fire in Hangzhou
On January 8, an Aviastar Airline Tupolev Tu-204 freighter caught fire on the ground in Huangzhou, China’s Xiaoshan Airport. Thanks to the rapid response of airport firefighters, no one was injured or killed in the accident. The plane was burned in three pieces and the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Cargo flight 4B6534 was scheduled to depart at 4:40 a.m. local time to Novosibirsk, Russia, with packages for online shoppers. The fire started just after the plane began to roll back from parking lot 204. The fire started from inside the plane and spread to the entire body. Airport Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) crews were on the scene less than two minutes after pilots reported the fire, and eight crew members are all safely rescued from the plane on fire.
At the time of the crash, 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 avoided the risk of a massive explosion caused by leaking aviation fuel.
Operations at the airport were not interrupted by this incident. No flights were delayed due to this accident.
At this time, the remains of the fatally damaged aircraft are still on the ramp. Given the extent of the damage, the aircraft will likely be dismantled on the stand and then transported to a disposal facility. The aircraft in the colors of Cai Niao Logistics is still visually accessible to passengers traveling through the airport and spectators outside the airport.
The Tupolev Tu-204 is painted with the Cai Niao Logistics livery. Cai Niao Logistics is a subsidiary of Alibaba, and Alibaba is headquartered in Hangzhou, China. The company is actively developing its business abroad, especially in Russia.
Only three Tupolev Tu-204 cargo planes are still in service today, all operated by Aviastar. The carrier is a Moscow-based charter cargo airline that operates three Tupolev Tu-204s and six Boeing 757-200PCFs. The airline has encountered several safety incidents since 2010 and fortunately no fatalities have occurred.
Similarly, on July 22, 2021, an Ethiopian Boeing 777-200F ET-ARH caught fire while loading cargo at Pudong International Airport in Shanghai. No fatalities or injuries were reported in the crash. However, the aircraft was fatally damaged and it is still parked at Pudong Airport.
Before the Ethiopian crash in 2019, an Air China Airbus A330-300 B-5958 bound for Tokyo from Beijing caught fire while boarding. The fire burned through a hole in the top of the plane. At present, the damaged plane is still parked in the Air China hangar in Beijing, awaiting scrapping.
The cause of both accidents was a fire caused by a lithium battery. After the Ethiopian Freighter fire, Chinese airports tightened controls for air cargo products with batteries.