Plane trouble latest Frontier wrinkle
September 12, 2007
ASPEN Frontier Airlines may be facing another setback in its plan to launch a new, low-fare subsidiary to regional markets such as Aspen after plane maker Bombardier called Wednesday for the grounding of dozens of Q-400 turboprop planes – the aircraft Frontier intends to use for its Lynx Aviation service.The grounding of the Q-400, after a Scandinavian Airlines aircraft skidded off a runway in Lithuania – the second such incident in three days – forced the cancellation of at least 200 flights worldwide on Wednesday.None of the carriers that serve the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport at present uses the aircraft, and what the latest development means for Frontier’s future plans isn’t yet clear. But it’s not encouraging news, conceded Bill Tomcich, president of reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass and the resort’s liaison to the airline industry.”That is, I hate to say, disappointing news to me,” said Tomcich of Bombardier’s call to ground much of the Q-400 fleet.Denver-based Frontier is buying Q-400 turboprops for its Lynx regional service, which is still awaiting Federal Aviation Administration approval.While the planes Frontier is acquiring are brand-new, and therefore not the focus of Bombardier’s call for inspections, the problem “cannot spell good news” for the timely FAA approval of Lynx, which has already been delayed, Tomcich noted.The airline will work closely with Bombardier, however, to determine if any changes are required as a result of the inspections, Frontier spokesman Joe Hodas said Wednesday.Meanwhile, Frontier has yet to announce formally many of the markets it intends to serve through Lynx Aviation, though Aspen is expected to be among them. The airline cannot begin marketing the flights and selling seats until FAA certification is in place.Frontier was, however, set to launch service with the Q-400 to several cities on Oct. 1, including three new markets – Wichita, Kan.; Rapid City, Iowa; and Sioux City, S.D. Even before Wednesday’s action by Bombardier, Frontier had announced that the delay in FAA certification would force the airline to use other aircraft to serve those destinations.The announcement of the ski resort markets Frontier will serve to continues to be postponed.The latest trouble to befall the Q-400 occurred when one of the planes skidded off a runway in Lithuania on Wednesday with 52 people aboard. No one was hurt.The incident followed last weekend’s crash landing of a Scandinavian Airlines flight that suffered a similar failure. Five people were slightly injured in that mishap; the turboprop was carrying 73 people when it caught fire Sunday after its right landing gear collapsed during an emergency landing at Aalborg’s airport in western Denmark.Montreal-based Bombardier has called for the grounding and inspection of turboprops that have been used on more than 10,000 flights. The move affects 60 of the 160 Q-400 aircraft it has delivered worldwide, the company said.The manufacturer has sent representatives to assist European authorities, saying, “Bombardier cannot speculate or comment as to the cause of these incidents.””We decided to go ahead and to inform all our operators that there was a problem and that they should inspect all aircraft with more than 10,000 cycles as a precautionary measure,” Bombardier spokesman Marc Duchesne said.Bombardier, the world’s No. 4 plane maker, said Canadian regulators have been briefed on the situation and could recommend further “corrective actions.””We believe our aircraft are absolutely safe and reliable,” Duchesne said.In North America, only Horizon Air, a regional carrier operated by Alaska Air Group Inc., currently uses the Q-400, according to Tomcich.Associated Press writer Rob Gillies contributed to this report.