The last of 11 ATR 72-500s grounded on March 18 by New Zealand’s Mount Cook Airlines due to hairline cracks found on a front fuselage frame will likely return to service by the end of this week, an ATR spokesman told AIN Thursday. Subsequent checks on the entire fleet showed similar cracks on at least nine of the airplanes.
“The aircraft are being progressively introduced into the fleet and all of them should be re-entered by the end of the week,” he said. “I think there are three remaining, currently being repaired.
“There were some cracks on a cockpit frame of the fuselage but they did not affect safety,” he added. “This is a known thing, and these cracks are normally repaired on checks [after some 24,000 cycles]. [There was] no need [for an] EASA Airworthiness Directive.”
Mount Cook, a regional subsidiary of Air New Zealand, managed to accommodate 97 percent of the 4,000 passengers affected by the flight cancellations after returning four ATRs to service by Tuesday, supplemented by 50-seat Bombardier Q300 turboprops operated by sister carrier Air Nelson. Air New Zealand immediately deployed an Airbus A320 on March 18 to support Mount Cook services between Christchurch-Dunedin and Christchurch-Wellington.
ATR 72-500s have served with Mount Cook since 1999 and the current fleet averages 10.9 years of age. The 68-seat turboprops operate to 10 destinations around New Zealand.