Friday, September 14, 2007

More Planes Being Grounded Friday 14th

Horizon cancels 125 Friday flights

Seattle Times travel writer

Seattle-based Horizon Air will cancel 125 flights around the West Coast and Canada including 55 out of Seattle on Friday as it continues to grapple with the grounding of 19 turboprop planes because of two landing-gear failures involving similar planes in Europe.

About 6,000 passengers' travel plans were disrupted Wednesday after the airline, part of Alaska Air Group, canceled 120 flights, including 31 out of Seattle, to inspect Q400 turboprops made by Montreal-based Bombardier, the world's third-biggest aircraft maker.

The airline canceled 156 flights today, including 56 Seattle flights, but hopes for "significant improvement" by Saturday, pending completion of inspections of its planes, spokesman Ray Prentice said this morning.

"Friday's going to be a bit rough," he said. The airline said earlier it hoped operations would be back to normal on Saturday, but Prentice said it depends on how fast the inspections go. Horizon operates one-third of the 60 Q400 turboprops that Bombardier urged airlines to ground after a second landing-gear failure in a week on planes operated by Scandinavian Airlines.

The grounding Wednesday forced the cancellation of at least 200 flights worldwide, and more Thursday.

SAS grounded all of its Q400s indefinitely and canceled 100 flights within Europe. Its daily flight between Seattle and Copenhagen was unaffected, but passengers with ongoing connections should check with the airline at or 800-221-2350.

Qantas Airways Ltd., Australia's biggest airline, grounded most of its Bombardier Inc. Q400 aircraft amid safety concerns. All Nippon Airways Co. and Japan Airlines Corp., Japan's largest carriers, canceled 87 flights.

Horizon maintains that the inspections are a precaution and will include only aircraft with higher numbers of flight hours. Of Horizon's 76-plane fleet, 33 are Q400s.

Horizon and its sister carrier Alaska Airlines are the Northwest's major regional carriers, and Seattle is the hub for flights to 48 cities in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and British Columbia and Alberta.

The cancellations affect about a quarter of Horizon's 500 daily flights. Major routes affected were Seattle/Portland, Seattle/Boise and Seattle/Spokane. Flights were also canceled between Seattle and Calgary, Alberta; Bozeman, Mont.; and Medford and Eugene, Ore.

The airline is offering refunds, rebooking passengers on other carriers and waiving fees through Friday for customers to change plans or postpone their trips. But Horizon's phone lines have been jammed, and passengers report not being able to get through.

Repeated calls to the airline's 800 number (800-547-9308) are answered with a message that says "All circuits are busy now. Please try your call later."

"We are working on notifying customers," Prentice said.

Travel agents said they were able to accommodate most passengers Wednesday, either because fliers could change their plans and drive to their destinations or delay travel, switch to another Alaska/Horizon flight or rebook on another airline.

"In general, it could have been a lot worse," said Teresa Willson of Doug Fox Travel in Seattle.

Several airlines fly some of Horizon's major routes, and the chances of finding available seats "is better now than it was this summer," she said.

United, for instance, flies daily nonstops from Seattle to Portland, Spokane and Calgary and also flies to Boise through San Francisco. Delta makes a connection through Salt Lake City to Boise. Air Canada flies nonstop to Calgary. Southwest flies to Boise and Spokane.

Part of the landing gear on a Scandinavian Airlines Q400 plane collapsed on touchdown in Lithuania on Wednesday, according to Bombardier. Three days earlier, a landing-gear glitch involving another Scandinavian Airlines aircraft caused a crash-landing in Denmark. There were no injuries in Wednesday's incident, but five people were slightly injured on Sunday, according to Bombardier.

Bombardier and landing-gear manufacturer Goodrich on Wednesday recommended that Q400 aircraft with more than 10,000 landing-gear cycles — one takeoff and one landing — be grounded until the landing gear is inspected.

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

"We realize — and greatly regret — that this proactive measure will result in inconvenience to many of our customers as flights are canceled to allow for these unplanned inspections," Jeff Pinneo, Horizon president and CEO, said in a statement released Wednesday morning. "Safety is, of course, our foremost consideration."

Alaska Air Group's stock fell 70 cents, or nearly 3 percent, to $22.88 Wednesday.

This report contains material from The Associated Press. Seattle Times reporter Christina Siderius also contributed to the story.

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