Air New Zealand subsidiary Mount Cook Airline has been forced to cancel dozens of flights after discovering hairline cracks around the cockpit windows of an ATR turboprop.
The carrier grounded all 11 of its ATR 72-500s on Sunday as it inspected the aircraft. That forced the cancellation of more than 50 flights, mostly to regional centres, disrupting an estimated 3000 passengers. Two of the turboprops returned to the air this this morning and three more were expected to resume flying later in the day, but further cancellations were expected to affect another 2000 passengers today, Air New Zealand said in a statement.
The carrier said two more aircraft were expected to resume flying on Thursday but that three “require closer examination.” The eleventh aircraft is undergoing pre-planned maintenance.
Air New Zealand said it would bring in an Airbus A320 and a Boeing 737 to pick up some of the slack, focusing on busier routes through Queenstown, Hamilton, Christchurch and Wellington. Mount Cook flies the 68-seat turboprops to 10 destinations in New Zealand.
Air New Zealand said ATR had informed the airline that it was aware of the cracks issues and is working with the airline “around the clock” to resolve the problem. The carrier said it did not believe the cracks posed a serious safety threat because they occurred in an area that was not a load-bearing structure.
The ATR 72 is one of the world’s most widely used regional airliners and flies regional routes for Virgin Australia. Mount Cook’s ATR 72-500 fleet has an average age of 10.9 years.
UPDATE: Air New Zealand said this afternoon that it expects to accommodate around 97 per cent of passengers booked on Mount Cook Airline tomorrow, though many passengers will continue to face disruptions including changing flight times.
The airline said the three ATR turboprops confirmed as requiring repairs will likely remain grounded until Sunday.