March 16, 2007

Pilots, Controllers Questioned Over ANA Plane's Nose Landing

Investigators from the transport ministry's aircraft accident investigation commission interviewed the crew members of an All Nippon Airways domestic flight and air traffic controllers on Wednesday after the airline's DHC8-Q400 aircraft made a nose landing at Kochi airport in western Japan the previous day.

The investigators, who met with them at the airport in Nankoku, Kochi Prefecture, also asked the Japanese airline to present its operating manual for emergency procedures.

In the afternoon, they examined the twin-turboprop Bombardier aircraft, which was removed from the runway tarmac late Tuesday, to try to find out what went wrong when the airplane's front-gear compartment's doors failed to open when it tried to land.

A flight data recorder and a voice recorder have already been recovered from the airplane and will be sent to the transport ministry for analyses, ministry officials said.

Bombardier Aerospace, the Canadian builder of the popular DHC8 series fleet, will soon send a six-member team, including engineers, to Japan to determine the cause of the incident, according to the manufacturer's Japanese intermediary.

The airport reopened for flights at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. It was closed after the incident just before 11 a.m. Tuesday with the plane stuck on the airport's runway.

Four ANA flights and a Japan Air Commuter flight were canceled Wednesday due to the airport's closure and emergency checkups on all 36 DHC8-series airplanes operating in Japan ordered by the transport ministry following the situation.

On Tuesday, the investigators dispatched from the Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission confirmed that the compartment doors of the aircraft's nose gear failed to open during Tuesday's landing.

They also found that the aircraft's pilots had pulled a wiring device designed to manually open the doors and lower the gear in cases of emergency after a hydraulic device failure, but the backup also failed to function.

One of the investigators sent to the scene, Makoto Matsuo, suggested late Tuesday that the pilots were unlikely to have caused the accident.

The backup device that failed to work has a relatively simple mechanism using metal wire, and such a device has hardly ever failed, according to the ministry.

Given the rarity of the case, the investigation commission is expected to examine whether the aircraft's hydraulics and the backup system had any problems.

A spokesman for Bombardier said the Q400 series had incidents related to their wiring harnesses, but such a problem was "rectified previously."

"I would also like to confirm that this is the first time ever that a Q400 lands on the belly like that without the front landing gear open," said the spokesman, Marc Duchesne.

Bombardier "will work fully and openly" with Japanese civil aviation authorities and ANA "to determine the root cause and to implement any corrective actions required," Bombardier Regional Aircraft President Steven Ridolfi said in a statement.

The company wishes to express "regret surrounding the circumstances affecting (the) nose landing gear malfunction" and to convey "our apologies to the passengers and crew" who were aboard the flight for any concerns they experienced, he said.

On Tuesday morning, ANA flight 1603 from Osaka's Itami airport made an emergency landing at Kochi airport with only its main gear after Captain Hitoshi Imazato reported he could not lower the front gear even manually.

The airplane successfully landed on the 2,500-meter runway with its nose touching the surface, giving off sparks before it came to a halt. All 56 passengers and four crew members were unhurt.

After the accident, the transport ministry issued a directive for checks on all 36 DHC8-series airplanes flying in Japan in line with the Civil Aeronautics Law.

(Japan Economic Newswire)

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