Frontier sticks with turboprops

Carrier in Europe drops Q400 fleet over safety issues


Frontier Airlines will press ahead with plans to fly Bombardier Q400 turboprop planes despite a European carrier's decision to stop using that type of aircraft because of safety concerns.

Scandinavian carrier SAS said Sunday that it will pull all of its 27 Q400s after three accidents in the past two months. The incidents appear isolated to just SAS and involve older versions of the aircraft.

Denver-based Frontier has five new Q400s as well as orders for five more, although it is not yet flying the planes as it awaits final certification from the Federal Aviation Administration.

"Safety, of course, is a top priority, and we're going to work closely with Bombardier to understand what the issues are and whether they are relevant to our fleet," Frontier spokesman Joe Hodas said.

"But we have plenty of lead time to make changes if we need to. So at this point there's no change in our plans."

Experts, however, say the problems could affect future orders for the planes.

The FAA intends to issue a directive today requiring airlines to inspect certain landing gear parts on older Q400s for corrosion, agency spokesman Allen Kenitzer said.

But it involves only planes that are reaching 4,000 total landings, are more than two years old or are approaching 500 flight hours.

None of Frontier's Q400 planes meet that criteria.

Frontier has had to delay the launch of its turboprop service numerous times as it awaits federal approval.

The FAA said Monday that it couldn't say whether the Q400 problems at SAS would affect the approval process.

But Frontier and the FAA said last week that they hope to complete the certification by year's end.

SAS first experienced problems with its Q400 planes last month, when two aircraft experienced problems with landing gears.

Canadian plane maker Bombardier initially ordered airlines worldwide to ground their Q400s while it investigated the incidents. It later revised maintenance procedures and said carriers could resume flying those planes.

SAS experienced another incident last weekend when the landing gear on a Q400 failed to fully extend upon arrival in Denmark.

Bombardier said it is disappointed that SAS decided to pull all Q400s out of its fleet, saying it has concluded that the planes are safe.

"We did an assessment following (the first two) incidents, and we did not identify a systemic landing-gear issue," said John Arnone, a Bombardier spokesman.

SAS is the only carrier to experience the problems, leading some to suggest the root cause is tied to its maintenance procedures.

"There's no real problem with that airplane," said Evergreen aviation consultant Mike Boyd. "It's a good airplane and a perfect airplane for Frontier. It could be a larger problem, but I doubt it."

Bombardier debuted the plane in 2000, and there are now 165 Q400s in service at carriers around the world.

Horizon Air, a regional carrier that flies 32 Q400s, said conducted a "thorough inspection" of all its Q400s in September. The airline said it has concluded that the planes are safe.

INFOBOX

Bombardier Q400

Here is a look at recent incidents involving the Q400, also known as Dash 8 or DHC-8 (shown below):

* Feb. 9, 2006: The pilot of an All Nippon Airways turboprop aborts a landing attempt at Matsuyama Airport in Japan after having trouble deploying the landing gear. The plane lands safely after the landing gear is deployed manually.

* March 13, 2007: An All Nippon Airways turboprop makes an emergency landing at Kochi airport in western Japan after the front landing gear fails to extend. No one is injured. The airline temporarily grounds its fleet of Bombardier planes for inspections.

* Aug. 12, 2007: A Jeju Air turboprop skids off the runway in Busan, South Korea, injuring six people. The cause of the accident is unclear.

* Sept. 9, 2007: An SAS turboprop with 73 people on board makes a crash-landing in Aalborg, Denmark. The right landing gear collapses after touchdown. Five passengers suffer minor injuries.

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