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TransAsia's ATR72s have engine problem 5 times in 5 years

2015/02/06 16:45:50

Taipei, Feb. 6 (CNA) The ATR 72 fleet of TransAsia Airways (復興航空) had a history of engine failures -- five in as many years -- even before Wednesday's crash in Taipei, an official at the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) revealed Friday.

Three of the incidents were linked to manufacturing quality and the other two were determined to be the fault of TransAsia lapses in aircraft maintenance and repairs, said Lin Chun-liang (林俊良), chief of the administration's flight standard division.

Of the three problems linked to manufacturing quality, two were found on the ATR 72-600 that crashed into the Keelung River Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Taipei's Songshan Airport, killing at least 35 of the 58 people on board -- the fourth deadly crash for TransAsia involving a ATR 72 in 20 years.

The United Daily News reported Friday that the aircraft had had its engines replaced twice.

Shortly after it was delivered in April last year, it had a back-up engine installed when its first engine malfunctioned due to excessive oil output in the lubricant system. After a second incident days later, the problematic engine was replaced with a new one, the report said.

Whether or not that was the reason for Wednesday's crash was still unclear Friday afternoon as the search for several missing people continued. Initial reports on the black box recordings indicated that both engines of Flight GE235 were out for more than one minute before its crash.

The other quality problem was on a different ATR 72 plane in August 2011, when an engine caught fire on the way to Penghu from Taiwan proper.

The CAA's Lin said the two maintenance problems occurred in October 2010 and August 2011. In the first, a flight to Hualien in eastern Taiwan had to return to Taipei due to an engine abnormality, while in the second, a flight to Taipei from Penghu saw an abnormality that was resolved before landing.

In July last year, a TransAsia flight departing from Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan to Penghu crashed outside of Magong Airport after a failed landing amid inclement weather, killing 48 of the 58 people on board.

The CAA ordered a thorough inspection of TransAsia's management in terms of aviation safety and aircraft maintenance after that crash, and Lin said that to date the company has not yet completed even one third of required improvements.

Tsang Jui-chuan (臧瑞傳), an assistant professor of aviation mechanical engineering at China University of Science and Technology in Hsinchu, told the United Daily News that the engines are the most vulnerable part of any airplane, no matter how new it is.

An engine can stop running if its compressor blades wear out or break off, Tsang said.

David Chu (祝如竹), dean of the university's College of Aviation, told the paper that he suspects both the engines of Wednesday's crashed plane had lost power when it plunged into the Keelung River based on footage of the crash.

He surmised one of the engines may have gone out when the plane was taxiing, forcing the pilot to fly on the other engine which also cut out later.

"When the two engines both failed, the plane was like a giant chunk of iron" in the air, Chu said.

Founded in 1951 for domestic flight services, TransAsia Airways now operates international flights to nearby destinations in Asia, including China. It had owned 12 ATR 72s before the Magong crash last year and the Taipei crash this week.

(By Wang Shu-fen and Elizabeth Hsu; click here for the latest on the crash)
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