Pay more attention than usual to the safety announcement if you still get to fly on the long thin Q400 turbo props operated by Qantaslink to Canberra or on many regional routes.

The biggest operator of the type Scandinavian Air Systems (SAS) has just permanently discontinued using the Canadian built aircraft after a third undercarriage collapse occurred over the weekend, following two similar crashes in September.

It is the first time since BOAC grounded the early Comets in 1954, in much more tragic circumstances, that an airliner has been ejected from an airline’s fleet on safety grounds.

Qantaslink has seven 72 seat Q400s in service, mostly out of Canberra. Two more are (or were) due in service soon.

It recently poured scorn on Virgin Blue’s choice of the wider, faster Embraer E-jets for such routes when it slapped down $400 million for a further 12 of the turbo-props plus options for an additional 24, which would take its bet on the Canadian planes made by Bombardier to around $1.5 billion if all of them were delivered.

In September the cause of the SAS crashes was found to be a faulty undercarriage design fortunately different from the one used in the older smaller Dash 8 turbo props also made by Bombardier and widely used down the years by Qantas.

However, the statements and assurances made by Bombardier and BF Goodrich the Q400 main gear maker and the safety authorities that approved remedial work and a resumption of services briefly suspended in September are now void as far as SAS is concerned.

The Qantas Q400s are much younger and consequently less at risk from the second rate design of the turbo prop than early adopters like SAS.

But to say Qantas will face issues with its choice of prop jets is an understatement. Disintegration on landing is a bad look. It is dangerous. It has “future litigation” in neon lights blinking right above it. And compared to an E-jet, which the Virgins call a “Capital Jet”, a Q400 is a stuffy, slow tube crammed with absurdly small seats flying at low speed and low altitudes that maximise turbulence and discomfort.

Somehow, it seems reasonable to anticipate a sharp U-turn away from Q400s in Qantas fleet planning in the not too distant future.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.