Last night, I attended a party in DC to celebrate the launch of Today Show travel editor Peter Greenberg’s new Travel Detective Bible. After the event, I sat down with Peter (aka the Travel Detective) to discuss his take on the latest topic de jour – the spate of SAS Q400 landing-gear-related incidents, and the company’s subsequent decision to axe its entire Q400 fleet.
Of particular concern to Peter is the FAA’s decision to wait until October 30 to issue an airworthiness directive (effective November 14) covering Q400s certificated for operation in the USA - six weeks after seperate SAS Q400s suffered gear-collapses at Aalborg and Vilnius. Corroded retraction actuators, which had then disconnected, were found on the Q400s involved.
Horizon Air (sister to Alaska Airlines) operates a fleet of 33 of the type. Peter says he is “amazed that the FAA of this country did not ground these planes until their airworthiness could be proven. It’s more then just erring on the side of caution, it’s erring on the side of intelligence".
That the FAA has given operators so much time to complete the inspections “could border on what some might say is criminal negligence".
He later added: “If you have a problem which could jeopardize people’s lives and you make a conscious decision not to ground the aircraft immediately, then you are criminally negligent”.
Suffice it to say that a Travel Detective and a Runway Girl don’t always see eye-to-eye (actually, at 6ft tall, I don't see eye-to-eye with most folks, but that's beside the point).
While the FAA’s timeline for issuing it’s own AD does seem rather “Johnny come lately”, I think it’s important to note that, in the wake of the gear-collapse accidents at Aalborg and Vilnius, Horizon grounded its Q400 fleet and began conducting immediate landing-gear inspections in response to a Transport Canada airworthiness directive (which was preceded by Bombardier's own call for inspections).
Horizon gave all of it aircraft “a clean bill of health” and returned them to service on September 25.
The FAA's AD (released after reviewing Transport Canada's findings) does not address the Q400 accident on October 27 at Copenhagen. Danish investigators have indicated that a maintenance error led to that gear-up landing, and is unrelated to the accidents in Aalborg and Vilnius.
Additionally, the European Aviation Safety Agency today announced that the Q400 accident at Copenhagen was “not due to a design error” and adds that the airworthiness of the aircraft “is maintained”.
Nonetheless, Peter believes the FAA should be held to task for its response time to the initial two incidents, noting that the latest findings concerning the Copenhagen incident “still doesn’t get them off of the other two”.