Landing gear incidents spur Bombardier to ground turboprop model

Seattle-based Horizon Air has cancelled hundreds of flights after safety concerns on Wednesday prompted the grounding of the carrier's 70-seat Q400 turboprops so their landing gear can be inspected.

Horizon — the regional carrier of Alaska Airlines — cancelled about 160 flights today, as inspections continue, says Laurie Hohisel, a Horizon spokeswoman. The carrier cancelled 120 flights on Wednesday.

Most of the canceled flights are in the Pacific Northwest.

Horizon has 33 Q400s in service, making it the biggest operator of the aicraft in the world, according to Canadian manufacturer Bombardier. Horizon grounded 19 of its 33 Q400s Wednesday and today for inspections. It will continue checking the rest of its planes as its completes these inspections, Hohisel says. The airline expects to restore most of its service by Saturday.

To minimize disruption, Horizon has been contacting customers scheduled to fly today "throughout the night" by calling them and sending automated messages, she says. Alaska is using some of its jets to fly some of the Q400 flights and accomodate many passengers, she says. Passengers may request refunds.

On Wednesday, Canadian aircraft maker Bombardier recommended that all operators of the 70-seat turboprop inspect the planes' landing gear after the mechanism failed on a Scandinavian Airlines flight. The failure sent the plane skidding off a runway in Lithuania. No one on the plane was hurt.

But last week, the landing gear failed on another SAS Q400, injuring five people. The plane caught fire after its right landing gear collapsed during an emergency landing at an airport in western Denmark.

On Wednesday, Bombardier recommended that operators of Q400 planes ground them. Then, the Canadian regulatory body that certified the plane — Transport Canada — ordered operators to ground them. That means all operators must comply, says Marc DuChesne, a spokesman for Bombardier.

Since July, Denver-based Frontier Airlines had taken delivery of the first two of 10 Q400s to launch a new regional carrier, Lynx Aviation. But Joe Hodas, a Frontier spokesman, say that Lynx Aviation had not yet started service because it's still awaiting approval to operate from aviation regulators.

As the planes are inspected and approved for service, they will be sent back into the skies, Hohisel said.

The Q400, which at 70 seats is larger than the typical turboprop, went into service about eight years ago. It's main selling points were its speed, reduced noise and cost efficiency relative to jets, says Adrian Wijeyewickrema, Back Aviation Solutions. But sales limped along, largely because airlines and consumers had a negative perception about turboprops, traditionally known as cramped and noisy.

Other large operators of the airplane are the British carrier Flybe and Scandinavian Airlines (SAS).

Contributing: The Associated Press.

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