Japan calls for design improvements to Bombardier Q400 as reliability issues hamper ANA, JAC and Air Central

Singapore
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By Leithen Francis in Singapore

Japan’s Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) has asked Bombardier to improve the reliability of Dash 8 Q400s and also called on the Canadian civil aviation authority to assist.

“There have been far more problems that have occurred in Japan with the Q400 than with other newly developed aircraft. This is a big issue in Japan,” says a JCAB official in Tokyo who wishes to remain anonymous.

“Japanese operators have informed Bombardier about the troubles and they want to [see] improvements to the design of the Q400,” says the official, referring to Japan AirlinesJapan Air Commuter (JAC) and All Nippon Airways’ (ANA) Air Nippon Network and Air Central.

“If these design changes can be accomplished then the Japanese carriers think the troubles will decrease.”

The JCAB official says: “We have asked Bombardier to listen to the Japanese carriers’ concerns and review their designs in order to reduce the operational troubles.”

The Japanese regulator has also “requested the TCCA [Transport Canada Civil Aviation] to co-operate and assist in this issue”, says the official.

Japanese operators have already made some improvements to the Q400 - in accordance with the aircraft manufacturer’s service bulletins - but other changes are taking longer to achieve because Bombardier has had to speak to its suppliers, adds the official.

Bombardier’s top spokesman says the aircraft manufacturer is aware there have been “technical issues, and is very conscious that they have caused schedule interruptions. Those issues are being addressed by a ‘Working-Together’ plan involving our maintenance and production people and the two Japanese airlines”.

He adds: “We’re already seeing an improvement in the dispatch reliability, and the two airlines are fully satisfied that the situation will be resolved.”

Concerns over the Q400 have already appeared in Japan’s media with several newspapers reporting on an ANA/JAC survey into the aircraft.

The survey, covering the period 28 June 2003-20 May 2006, found there were 52 cases where Q400s had made emergency landings or had to return to departure airports. Forty-nine of these cases stemmed from problems with the aircraft such as difficulties with the flight control system, landing gear, engine oil pumps and hydraulic pressure systems.

Problems with the landing gear are of particular concern to the airlines, says the JCAB source, who adds that there have been incidences where the landing gear failed to deploy and/or retract. But he is quick to add Bombardier aircraft have “a double same [safe] system so if one system is down then the pilots can use the other system”.

JAC accounted for 19 of the 52 incidents, while Air Nippon Network and Air Central accounted for 22 and 11 respectively.

ANA group accounted for most of the incidents because it operates a larger fleet of Q400s, says an ANA spokesman in Tokyo.

The group has 11 Q400s with “three more Q400s on order to be delivered by spring 2008”, says the spokesman, who adds that its first Q400 went into service in November 2003. ANA group and JAC largely use the Q400s for short-haul domestic routes from major metros to secondary cities.

JAC has eight Q400s and a further three on order.

The Q400 is important to ANA because there are some busy airports in Japan where there are no slots available for jet aircraft but there are slots for turboprops, so having the Q400 allows ANA to increase services to these airports, says the spokesman. “We are committed to using the Q400,” he adds.