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5TH LD: ANA plane nose-lands safely after gear compartment fails to open.

TOKYO, March 13 Kyodo

(EDS: FIXING PILOT'S FLIGHT HOURS, ADDING DETAILS, BACKGROUND)

An All Nippon Airways domestic flight from Osaka made a nose landing at Kochi airport in western Japan on Tuesday morning after it failed to open the nose gear compartment, partly damaging the nose but injuring no one on board the twin-turboprop plane carrying 56 passengers and four crew members.

After circling the airport for around two hours so as to consume fuel to avoid a possible fire on landing, the DHC8-Q400 Bombardier hit the 2,500-meter runway with its main rear wheels, gradually slowing down as the nose sank and touched the runway, causing sparks before the plane stopped.

Flight 1603 -- with two flight crew and two cabin crew -- left Osaka's Itami airport at 8:21 a.m. The trouble with the nose gear was reported at around 8:50 a.m. The plane arrived at Kochi at 10:54 a.m., roughly two hours behind schedule.

The airport closed its runway and so far has canceled flights for the rest of the day. The airport is about 210 kilometers southwest of Osaka.

Following the incident, two inspectors dispatched from the transport ministry's Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission arrived at the airport on Tuesday afternoon to determine the cause of the trouble.

The commission's inspection is expected to focus on why the nose-gear compartment's doors failed to open and any possible mechanical failure associated with the operation.

Meanwhile, the ministry is expected to order domestic airlines by the end of the day to examine aircraft of the same type, totaling 22 including the ANA plane involved in the incident, for airworthiness and to report their findings under the Civil Aeronautics Law.

ANA and Japan Air Commuter, a Japan Airlines subsidiary, have both decided to suspend the operations of DHC8-Q400 aircraft in their fleets until their landing gear is examined and found to be trouble free.

There have been numerous reports of mechanical problems involving Bombardier planes operated by Japanese airlines.

Flight 1603, operated by ANA regional service subsidiary Air Central, was captained by Hitoshi Imazato, 36, who has logged 8,000 flight hours including 900 hours with DHC8-Q400 aircraft, according to ANA.

The plane involved in the incident was manufactured in June 2005 and delivered to the carrier the following month. It marked 2,966 flight hours as of last Saturday.

According to ANA and the transport ministry, the captain reported a problem with the front landing gear after an indication on the instrument panel and attempted to lower it manually at an altitude of 900 meters. An attempt to release the gear by briefly hitting the surface of the runway with the main plane wheels was made at 10:25 a.m. but failed, prompting the flight crew to opt for a landing without the front gear down.

With fire engines on standby, the plane landed about 30 minutes later. It was immediately sprayed with water and extinguishing foam by the fire crew.

At Haneda airport in Tokyo, ANA Managing Director Shin Nagase apologized at a press conference, saying, ''We truly regret causing such an accident. We deeply apologize for causing trouble to customers and people concerned.''

The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry is paying attention to the fact that the landing gear compartment's doors did not open even manually, its Airworthiness Division chief Kazuhiro Takahashi said in a press briefing, calling such an event ''unprecedented.''

It is rare in view of similar cases overseas, aviation exert Yoshitomo Aoki said.

The incident did not cause panic among the passengers, some passengers said.

Yoshinori Kurasho, a 34-year-old company employee, said, ''It was good I felt no impact from the landing,'' while adding, ''I would never take a Bombardier, given the number of problems.''

The passengers were informed of the problem more than 20 minutes after takeoff, but no one panicked, said Shuji Kurebe, a 30-year-old travel agent who was seated toward the front of the plane. The passengers deplaned around 11:10 a.m.

ANA said it will conduct emergency checks on the 12 other Bombardiers in its fleet operated by two group companies between local airports. Some flights may be canceled but not all will be grounded, it said.

The government set up an emergency liaison office at the prime minister's official residence around 9:45 a.m. to deal with the situation. The police have also set up a task force.

Transport minister Tetsuzo Fuyushiba said in a House of Councillors Budget Committee session, ''It is regrettable that the accident occurred while our efforts are under way to make transport companies put utmost priority on safety.''

''We will thoroughly supervise them to prevent a recurrence of a similar accident,'' he said.

Designed by aircraft manufacturer de Havilland Canada and produced by its acquirer Bombardier Aerospace Corp. of the Montreal-based Bombardier group, the aircraft has recently been entangled in a series of mechanical problems.

In February last year, a Bombardier operated by Air Central had trouble getting both its main and nose gear down as it tried to land at Matsuyama airport in neighboring Ehime Prefecture.

A similar incident occurred last May involving an Air Central Q400 trying to land at Niigata Airport in Niigata Prefecture. In both cases, however, the planes landed safely after their pilots lowered the gear manually.

Last Tuesday, a Bombardier flying between Osaka and Saga airports had trouble with its hydraulic system.

According to the transport ministry, there were 12 cases of trouble involving DHC8-Q400 aircraft operating in Japan in fiscal 2004. The number of cases surged to 31 in the following fiscal year. Since April 2006, there have so far been 30 cases of trouble involving the aircraft reported to the ministry.

In light of the surge in the number of cases involving the aircraft, ministry officials held a meeting with Canadian aviation officials and Bombardier officials in April 2006 to ask them to address the problems. But the officials did not raise problems associated with the aircraft's landing gear at the meeting, ministry officials said.

There have been three similar landing incidents involving passenger airliners in Japan, the most recent case being when a Northwestern Airlines Boeing 747-400 from Manila landed at Narita airport in June 2001 without one of its four main gears deployed.

The DHC8-Q400 is about 33 meters long with a wingspan of about 28 meters. It has a passenger capacity of 74 and is capable of flying for 2,000 kilometers.

Besides the two ANA group airlines, Japan Air Commuter operates nine DHC8-Q400 aircraft, mostly between island cities in Japan.
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Publication:Japan Transportation Scan
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Mar 19, 2007
Words:1096
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