SAS Dumps the Q400, Should They Kiss and Make Up?

Judging from comments on previous posts in the last couple of days, I’m guessing many of you have already heard that SAS had yet another Q400 turboprop land with gear problems. This makes for an unbelievable third gear problem resulting in an emergency landing in less than two months. If you’d like to see the rather boring video of this landing, click here.

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Before anyone had time to figure out what happened, SAS came out saying that they were permanently grounding the plane type and selling their fleet of 27 as soon as possible. That would certainly imply that SAS blames Bombardier, the manufacturer of the plane, for this. But is it their fault?

I’m not really convinced of that. There are many other operators of the Dash 8 in the world, including Horizon Air here in the US. They operate in the Pacific Northwest in a damp, cool climate not unlike that of Scandinavia. Their fleet is also about the same age as that of SAS with most aircraft being delivered in 2001. So why hasn’t Horizon had a single problem thus far?

Bombardier’s Marc Duchesne did say, “We did an internal investigation that confirmed there was no systemic problem with the landing gear of the Q400.” That would certainly point to something going on with the aircraft’s operation specific to SAS, but of course we just don’t know yet. Bombardier has also said that this problem was unrelated to the previous gear problems.

So, should SAS be grounding these planes and selling them off? It’s not an easy decision, but I would argue that it’s too early to make that kind of decision. They’re estimating this will cost the airline anywhere from $47m to $62m. (Actually 300m to 400m Swedish Krona.) That’s a lot of money considering they don’t even know what the problem is yet.

I think back to the DC-10, an airplane that had more than its share of serious problems. Unlike the Q400, its problems actually caused many fatalities, and it was ultimately grounded by the US for a short time until problems were fixed. That was a situation far more serious than what SAS is dealing with today, yet major operators like United and American did not walk away from the plane and sell their fleets. The planes were fixed and ended up having a good safety record until their retirement in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Of course, it’s easy for SAS to say that this is the third landing gear problem they’ve had and their customers have lost confidence in the aircraft. They have to get rid of it. But what if it really is something that SAS was doing? In that case, getting rid of the planes will only cost them more money without measurably improving public perception. If it is their fault, they’ll take the hit regardless. And what if it is an easily fixable problem? Will it be worth it to ditch the plane entirely? I remain unconvinced.

I completely agree that they should ground the aircraft until they figure out what’s going on and have other airlines do the flying for them in the short run. But selling the planes off right now seems premature. Let’s just hope they figure out what’s going on quickly so that it doesn’t have the opportunity to happen again.


7 Responses to SAS Dumps the Q400, Should They Kiss and Make Up?

  1. Dr G. Mobile says:

    I agree with you on this. It is a knee-jerk reaction.

    Those Scandinavians! They can take an ingeldorp, put it into a barteglugen and make a table but they seem to be having trouble when it comes to maintaining the landing gears on those Q-400s. And unlike at Ikea, I am pretty sure the manuals for Q-400s come with more than just pictures of how to put these pieces together to make a plane!

  2. Charles Nobil says:

    If SAS had problems maintaining their planes then they would have problems with all their planes, not just the Q400. Scandanavia is not the only place that has had problems with landing gear of the Q400. We had problems in Toronto also, although no crashes yet.

  3. Howard Berk says:

    I live in the Pacific Northwest (PDX, to be exact) and I don’t consider the climate here to be the least bit similar to Scandinavia.

    The local press here did report that Horizon did find rust on some of their aircraft, however. With the harsh climate in Scandinavia, I wonder if de-icing fluid might be a bit corrosive on the landing gear? Remember turbo-props have a history of icing issues and I have heard that de-icing fluid is some pretty strong stuff.

  4. CF says:

    Charles – I wouldn’t be so sure about that just yet. They may use procedures that don’t have an impact on certain planes but they do on the Q400. We just don’t know yet.

    Howard – Well, the climates aren’t identical, but let’s look at Copenhagen vs. Seattle. The temps are mostly similar although somewhat colder in CPH than SEA during the winter months. You’re also looking at damp climates in both areas, though SEA has more rain than CPH.

    Remember, these planes don’t just go north, they go south into the Continent as a well, so they aren’t just flying in the frozen tundra of northern Norway.

    But you’re right, it could certainly have to do with the deicing fluid. We just don’t know yet, and that’s why this seems like a rash decision on the part of SAS. We do now know that this most recent incident is unrelated to the other ones.

    By the way, that’s a pretty broad statement saying that turboprops have icing issues. I don’t recall the Dash 8 ever having icing problems. The Embraer 120 and certainly the ATR had issues, but that’s related to icing inflight and isn’t relevant here at all.

  5. NotConvinced says:

    This SAS landing gear business is interesting, and the fact that these gear up landings have only occured there does spark more possibilities that it might be an issue more airline specific. Wheter thats SAS’s mx, a lack of Bombardier guidance, or someother extenuating circumstance that’s yet to be seen. I am not positive but they are not the first airline to cease Q400 ops. While Island Air was more of a financial impact so far as I know they never started ops with the type, and an airline in China also got rid of a few.

    I do suspect that these occurances were more of the last nail in the coffin variety though with SAS. The problem with the Q400, or forte depending on your point of view, is that the direct economics are SO good. On the flip side of it, the reliability is not so hot, and there are a host of issues to prove it. Ask anyone who operates it on a day to day basis and not blinded by those economics and they will tell you. Passengers don’t mind it but many who rely on it regularly are not thrilled by the ability to stay on time.

  6. Charles Nobil says:

    Who is going to buy a set of planes that have a record of malfunctioning and giving passengers the flying jitters? I certainly hope it is not our local airline, Porter.

  7. Pingback: The Cranky Flier » SAS and Bombardier Settle Over the Q400

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