Monday, 29 August 2011

Bhutan - Fifth grounding in three months

29 August, 2011 - For at least the fifth time, in less than three months, a technical problem has grounded Drukair’s ATR aircraft yet again.

A leak in the ATR 42-500’s hydraulic system is the latest technical problem to plague the twin turbo propeller aircraft. “As per engineering department, ATR is having hydraulic break system leak,” said Drukair CEO, Tandin Jamso. He acknowledged that the problem was serious enough to ground the 48-seater aircraft. The hydraulic system is required, among others, to utilise the aircraft’s wheel brakes.

The aircraft is expected to be grounded until Wednesday, according to the CEO. Spare parts from the USA are scheduled to arrive on that day.

The last grounding, which lasted for five days and ended only a week ago, was also because of a technical problem. The ATR’s de-icing boot on one of its wings required replacing after it was found ruptured. The de-icing boot is a rubber device on the front surface edge of aircraft wings that allow for mechanical de-icing. The front surface edge of an aircraft is an area, where ice is likely to form and disrupt airflow, which can lead to loss of control.

A damaged wheel bearing in its nose landing gear grounded the ATR for about two weeks, earlier this month. The entire nose landing gear had to be shipped to Singapore for repair.

Prior to this, the ATR required two more groundings to prevent the airline’s only two pilots qualified to fly the aircraft, from exceeding permitted flying hours.

The ATR was inducted into the Drukair fleet in mid-June after another two-week delay, for painting purposes, according to the airline.

On whether the national airline is concerned with the recent spate of technical problems, Tandin Jamso, pointed out that the airline considers the ATR still in “good condition” and “fairly new”. He said that the aircraft, despite its age of nine years, had flown a little more than 3,300 hours. Drukair’s airbus jets fly that amount in one year, he added.

The ATR, which previously was used by the French Polynesian government of Tahiti as a VIP aircraft, had been parked most of the time, said Tandin Jamso, adding that as a result, such “unforeseen” technical issues were bound to arise. He compared it to a car parked in the garage for a long time.

Prior to purchasing the aircraft, a technical examination by foreign experts had been carried out, said Tandin Jamso. He added that all technical checks as required by regulations had been conducted. Similarly, the French Polynesian government, in a previous email interview with Kuensel, said that an independent team had conducted a technical check of the aircraft prior to sale.

Tandin Jamso said that Drukair engineers also carry out daily checks and maintenance of Drukair aircraft. The low hydraulics fluid level was discovered during such a check, he said, leading to the discovery of a damaged pipe.

The CEO said that the series of recent technical problems are simply coincidences and bad luck.

One of Drukair’s airbus jets was also grounded for a number of days this month after an unusual bird strike. Following the incidents, the airline performed a three-day rimdro or prayer ceremony for its aircraft, employees, and other related matters. This is the ATR’s second grounding since the rimdro.

Tandin Jamso said that passengers do not have to expect scheduled flight disruptions, as both airbus jets are on hand.

The department of civil aviation did not comment on the grounding, given that the issue had not yet been filed with the authority, as it took place during the weekend.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

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