GARDEN CITY, New York -- Aircraft from a Canadian company that built the jetliner involved in an emergency landing in New York City last weekend have experienced at least three other landing gear problems in the past two years, Federal Aviation Administration documents show.
But a Bombardier Inc. spokesman insisted Tuesday that its aircraft are safe, noting they have been involved in tens of millions of landings and takeoffs for dozens of airlines worldwide.
Several aviation experts said Tuesday that while a plane landing without its full gear can be harrowing for those on board, usually such landings result in few injuries or fatalities.
"It creates a lot of sparks and damages the airliner to some extent," said Doug Moss, a pilot who runs AeroPacific Consulting in Torrance, California. "The general rule is no one gets hurt and they are fairly infrequent."
Delta Connection Flight 4951, operated by Atlantic Southeast Airlines, made an emergency landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday night after the flight crew declared an emergency with the jet's landing gear. The CRJ-900 twin-engine jetliner from Atlanta was diverted from White Plains, New York, just north of New York City, to Kennedy at the request of the cockpit crew.
Video captured on passengers' cell phone cameras showed sparks flying as the aircraft's right wing dragged along the tarmac before it came to a stop, but no one was hurt. The cause of the landing gear emergency is under investigation.
FAA documents reveal Bombardier aircraft also were involved in the following landing gear emergencies since late 2008:
-- On Dec. 15, 2008, a Mesa Airlines CRJ-900 landed safely at Chicago O'Hare Airport after the crew noticed an indicator light showing trouble with the landing gear.
-- On June 11, 2009, an Atlantic Southeast Airlines CRJ-200 couldn't extend its left landing gear but landed safely in Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport.
-- On May 23, 2010, a Skywest Airlines CRJ-200 couldn't extend its nose landing gear but landed safely at an Ontario, Calif., airport.
The New York Daily News, which first reported Tuesday on the landing gear problems, also noted that in April a "gear disagree" message appeared on a South Africa Express CRJ-200 flight approaching Windhoek Airport in Namibia. The nose gear was involved that time.
Bombardier spokesman Marc Duchesne, when asked Tuesday if there are any concerns with the landing gear of the CRJ series planes, said, "Absolutely not."
"These aircraft are in service with more than 60 airlines over the world," he said. "The aircraft has logged more than 27 million flight hours and more than 22 million takeoff and landing cycles, so these are very good and reliable aircraft."
He declined to comment on any of the prior problems, noting investigations are ongoing.
Separately, Bombardier, which has more than 60,000 employees in its air and rail transportation operations worldwide, said last month some of its Q400 planes needed to be inspected as a precaution after an airline found cracks near the turboprop aircraft's landing gear.
Australia's Qantas Airways grounded five of the 21 Q400s operated by regional airline QantasLink after low-cost flier Flybe raised concerns about the fittings on its fleet. Cracks were found in the rear spar nacelle, the cover that houses the engine. The aircraft's main landing gear is attached to the nacelle.
Duchesne noted the CRJ series and Q400 are different aircraft. He also said last month's issue was unrelated to incidents in 2007 that resulted in emergency landings in Denmark and Lithuania.
In 2007, three Scandinavian Airlines Bombardier Q400 turboprops crash-landed in a two-month span because of landing gear problems, which triggered the airline to drop its entire fleet of turboprops. No one was seriously injured.
The emergencies were found to be caused by corrosion of a bolt that prevented the landing gear from locking. Duchesne said it was a maintenance problem by the carrier.
Bombardier, along with landing gear company Goodrich Corp., agreed to pay Scandinavian Airlines $164 million in compensation. The agreement excluded any admission of fault, and Scandinavian Airlines agreed to purchase more turboprops from Bombardier.
Airline safety consultant Keith Mackey said regional jets, because they fly more frequently, may encounter landing gear problems more often.
"A Boeing 747 typically flies longer-distance flights, but some of these (regional) planes can do 30 landings a day," he said. "Each time you cycle the landing gear, the probability goes up."
Aviation expert John Nance agreed, but with reservations: "Obviously it puts more stress, but I'd be careful drawing a line to that too tightly."
Both agreed that other factors, including proper maintenance, would be more important.