Monday, November 5, 2007
Bombardier Called to Crisis Meeting with EASA, FAA Issues New AD
SAS’s fleet had just returned to service after a protracted grounding following landing gear problems and two accidents in September. SAS not only grounded its 27-aircraft fleet citing the loss of customer confidence, but said it will permanently spin them out of its fleet. Bombardier indicated that it already has takers for the aircraft, despite the problems. SAS already filed an $80 million claim against Bombardier for the losses resulting from the September grounding. While SAS said it would replace the aircraft with other aircraft in its fleet, it said it was forced to cancel 200 flights on October 28 alone. It also estimated that grounding the aircraft and spinning it out of its fleet would cost it another $63 million before the end of the year.
Bombardier questioned the term crisis. Spokesperson Marc Duchesne noted that scheduling the meeting more than a week away, does not denote a crisis. Bombardier issued a second statement saying it is disappointed with the SAS decision to permanently discontinue flight operations with the Bombardier Q400 aircraft. “While SAS chose to ground its Q400 turboprop fleet following the incident, Bombardier’s assessment of this situation, in consultation with Transport Canada, did not identify a systemic landing gear issue,” said the Canadian aircraft manufacturer. “Based on this, we advised all Q400 aircraft operators that they should continue with normal Q400 aircraft flight operations.
In fact, other airlines are doing just that. The International Herald Tribune reported that Austrian Airlines, Augsburg Airways and Horizon have expressed confidence in their fleets which, together, number 49 aircraft. Press reports also indicated Porter Airlines continues to operate the aircraft, the only aircraft in its fleet, quoting Chief Executive Robert Deluce as saying the airline has found no problems with its Q-400s. “There's a lot of those airplanes out there and a lot of hours being flown," Deluce told Canada.com, adding that Porter's bookings remain unaffected. "The fact that three incidents have happened at one airline makes one wonder a little bit." However, Porter itself had an incident last December in which the crew was forced to deploy the landing gear manually.
Horizon said that it had already complied with the previous AD and reported there would be no service impact from FAA’s most recent AD. Dan Russo, director of marketing and communications, said the airline is following the advice of the manufacturer who has been in close consultation with Transport Canada. “We will continue to take direction from the manufacturer and the regulatory authorities on this matter,” he said. He would not comment on consultations with Bombardier which was scheduled to meet with the airline last week. The September grounding cost the airline $4 million to $5 million in lost revenues alone and compensation was to be a part of last week’s discussions. He would also not comment on whether Horizon is one of the airlines interested in acquiring SAS’s aircraft.
Flybe also expressed complete confidence in the Q400. Twenty-six airlines operate 160 of the 78-seat Q400s. While Flybe is the largest European operator, SAS was the second-largest in Europe with the Q400 constituting five percent of its fleet. “Flybe awaits, with interest, the publication of independent reports into the SAS short-haul fleet and looks forward to learning of any issues with operating procedures with the aircraft or with SAS's maintenance procedures,” the airline told Canada.com
Bombardier and the landing gear manufacturer, Goodrich, have completed a full review of the Q400 landing gear system and results have confirmed its safe design and operational integrity, said the company. Bombardier stated it stands behind the Q400 aircraft, citing the fact that since entering revenue service in February 2000, the Q400 turboprop has proven itself to be a safe and reliable aircraft with over 150 Q400 aircraft in operation among 22 operators around the world. It added that, to date, the fleet of Q400 aircraft has logged over one million flying hours and 1.2 million take-off and landing cycles.
As for the FAA AD, the agency ordered an inspection to detect discrepancies of the main landing gear (MLG) system, an inspection of the jam nut of the retract actuator of the MLGs to ensure the wire lock is in place and the nut is secured. It also ordered another inspection, the subject of an earlier AD, of the retract actuator for any signs of corrosion or wear, and applicable related investigative and corrective actions if necessary. The AD is effective November 14 and requires submitting an inspection report to Bombardier.
Transport Canada expressed deep concern that the latest event was related to the two previous accidents in September. Related Story While analysts said it was interesting the problems have only occurred at SAS, others pointed out that Japan Airlines has also had problems, which involved the nose gear, not the main landing gear involved in the SAS accidents. Shortly after the Japanese incidents, Bombardier provided a fix – replacing a switch in the nose assembly.
The Montreal Gazette reported some were blaming SAS maintenance practices, not Goodrich, the manufacturer of the landing gear. ”We find it noteworthy that the problem has only occurred with SAS, and believe it could be due in part to the fact that SAS was the launch customer for the Q400,” Benoit Poirier, an analyst with Desjardins Securities, told the Gazette. “In fact, SAS's spokesperson acknowledged that it has had issues since receiving its launch order [in 2000], but that the newer generations of Q400s seem to be more reliable." The newspaper also quoted a July report by Teal Group Vice-President of Analysis Richard Aboulafia who said the Q400 series was plagued with "unpleasant teething problems," including weak support to customers like SAS. He also suggested to the Gazette that there could be “bad blood” between Bombardier and SAS.
"They've had issues before with customer support and with annoying customers," Aboulafia told the Gazette. "And you rarely hear about deeply annoyed customers in this business."