Long-haul budget carrier AirAsia X said one of its flights heading from Malaysia to Saudi Arabia turned back Sunday shortly after takeoff due to a technical problem, circling for hours before landing safely in Kuala Lumpur.
The incident comes after an AirAsia plane crashed into the Java Sea on Dec. 28 while flying from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore, killing all 162 people on board. It was the first fatal accident for AirAsia, the region's top budget carrier, which was formed in 2001. AirAsia X is the group's long-haul arm.
After Sunday's incident, group Chief Executive Kamarudin Meranun said the jet's auto-thrust system malfunctioned about 45 minutes after takeoff. He said the pilots then switched to manual thrust and could have continued with the flight, but decided to turn back since it was still early in the nearly 10-hour trip to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
The Airbus A330 had to circle for four hours over the Malacca Strait to burn fuel and prevent a hard landing, Kamarudin said.
"There is no emergency. It is not a safety issue. It is just a precautionary measure. Safety is paramount to us," Kamarudin told The Associated Press.
The airline said in a statement that Flight D7172 landed safely at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 5:40 p.m., more than five hours after it departed.
The passengers were being transferred to another aircraft, which was due to depart later Sunday, the airline said.