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Bombardier to ground at least 40 percent of its Q-400 turboprop planes

Plane maker Bombardier urged the grounding of at least 40 percent of its Q-400 turboprop planes after a Scandinavian Airlines aircraft skidded off a runway with 52 people aboard Wednesday.

No one was injured when the landing gear failed, forcing the emergency touchdown down in Lithuania. However, the incident followed the crash landing late last week of a Scandinavian Airlines flight that suffered a similar failure. Five people were slightly injured in that incident.

The SAS, turboprop carrying 73 people caught fire Sunday after its right landing gear collapsed during an emergency landing at Aalborg's airport in western Denmark.

The grounding Wednesday forced the cancellation of at least 200 flights worldwide. Both SAS and Horizon Air, a regional U.S. carrier operated by Alaska Air Group Inc., each canceled more than 100 flights to inspect their turboprop aircraft.

SAS grounded its 27 Bombardier turboprops of the same make, Horizon Air grounded 19 and Austrian Airlines Group said it would not fly the eight it owns, pending inspection.

Bombardier said the grounding of planes that had more than 10,000 flights would affect 60 of the 160 Q400 aircraft they have delivered worldwide, but refused to say if the remaining 25 aircraft have been grounded.

Bombardier 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 has been briefed on the situation and could recommend further "corrective actions."

"We believe our aircraft are absolutely safe and reliable," said Duchesne.

U.S. and Canadian aviation regulators recently ordered Montreal-based Bombardier to address wing malfunctions on certain jets flown by regional carriers in North America.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's directive, which went into effect Sept. 5, covers 684 airplanes in the U.S. fleet that were built by Bombardier and used by carriers such as Air Wisconsin and SkyWest Inc.

The airplanes have experienced flap failures over several years, according to Transport Canada, which issued its own safety order affecting 87 jets last month.

On Wednesday, SAS pilots attempted to land the 80-passenger plane at Vilnius airport on its front and left landing gear when the right set of wheels failed to extend, authorities said.

Passengers were ordered to move to the left side of the plane as it approached the runway for fear that the right propeller might shred upon landing and send shards into the cabin, said Kestutis Auryla, head of the Lithuanian Civil Aviation Administration.

On the Sunday crash landing in Denmark, shards of the propeller could be seen flying high into the air as the plane struck the runway.

The right wing struck the ground in Lithuania on Wednesday, causing a shower of sparks but no fire, Auryla said.

The Q400 turboprop eventually came to a stop in a patch of grass next to the airport's main landing strip after turning 90 degrees. All 48 passengers and four crew were evacuated safely, he said.

The plane in Vilnius had taken off from Copenhagen's international airport for a short flight across the Baltic Sea to Palanga, a resort town in western Lithuania. The pilots noticed a failure in the landing gear during the flight and decided to land at Vilnius airport because the runway there is longer and wider.

The Horizon cancellations accounted for about a quarter of the roughly 500 flights Horizon operates daily to 48 cities in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, British Columbia and Alberta.

"Based on the amount of time that the aircraft may have to be out of service, that could impact further flights today or in the coming days," Horizon spokeswoman Caroline Boren said.

Horizon has been flying Q400s since 2001 and has not experienced any problems with the aircraft, Boren said.

Denver-based Frontier Airlines is buying Q-400 turboprops for a regional service, which is still awaiting Federal Aviation Administration approval.

The airline will work closely with Bombardier to determine if any changes are required as a result of its inquiry, Frontier spokesman Joe Hodas said.

Bombardier shares declined by more than three percent trading on the Toronto stock exchange.

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