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Aircraft shown to have fairly clean safety record

The type of aircraft that crashed Thursday night, killing all 49 people onboard and another on the ground, has been a popular choice among regional airlines, with a good safety record and no previous incidents or crashes that involved deaths or even severe injuries, the manufacturer and safety records show.

Continental Connection Flight 3407, operated by Colgan Air, used a Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, a dual-engine turboprop plane that carries a crew of five and up to 78 passengers.

Built in Toronto, it is described by Montreal-based Bombardier as "already the most technologically advanced turboprop airliner" with operating costs "among the lowest of any regional aircraft."

It can carry 1,724 gallons of fuel and cruise at a speed of 414 mph for up to 1,567 miles, at a maximum altitude of 25,000 feet.

The plane that crashed was the newest version of the Q400 model. It was licensed in April and had a clean safety record, the company said.

Since the model was introduced in February 2000, the company has received orders for 322 planes, and has delivered 219, which are operated by 30 airlines. Most are foreign airlines, but the customer roster also includes Frontier and Horizon Air in addition to Colgan, which had 15 as of Bombardier's last "status report" in October.

"The customers see it as a good aircraft," said Paul Hayes, director of Ascend, a London-based airline information and consulting firm that publishes safety bulletins. "They have a lot of orders for it, and really selling turboprops is a very difficult market. They're never as popular as jets."

In the aircraft's nine-year history, they have accumulated more than 1 million flying hours and 1.5 million flights.

"This tragic accident from [Thursday] night is the first time there has been loss of life with the Q400," said Bombardier spokesman John R. Arnone.

That's not to say the plane's record has been completely unblemished. The plane suffered three "high-profile" incidents in fall 2007, when its main landing gear collapsed. All three involved Scandinavian Airlines, or SAS, and prompted the airline to permanently ground its fleet of Q400 planes.

In the first incident, the landing gear collapsed as the plane touched down in Denmark and caught fire, leaving five of the 73 passengers with minor injuries. A few days later, another SAS Q400 crashed while landing in Lithuania when its right-side landing gear collapsed. No one was hurt.

A few weeks after that accident, an Italy-bound Q400 came to rest on its nose while landing in Munich. The front wheels had failed to deploy. Again, no one was seriously injured.

Both Bombardier and the Goodrich Corp., the U.S. company that made the landing gear, rejected claims that the three accidents were indicative of a larger problem with its aircraft. And Arnone said the problems were resolved immediately by repairing or replacing parts after a Danish accident investigation board determined corrosion on the landing gear was a factor.

The plane has had at least 22 "incidents" reported to the Federal Aviation Administration, though all were minor and caused no harm to passengers or crew.

"The Dash 8 has a good record," Hayes said. "This is the first fatal accident, and looking at the other accidents, there's nothing untoward in them. They're just undercarriage events, which all aircraft types suffer from time to time."

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com

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