Australian turboprop operator Regional Express Holdings (Rex) has grounded six of its Saab 340s for checks, in response to the loss of an aircraft’s propeller while inflight.
The propeller on a Saab 340 separated from the engine March 17 while the aircraft was on approach to Sydney Airport. The aircraft landed safely. Another five aircraft with propeller gearboxes and shafts from the same series have also been removed from service “for further inspection and testing if warranted,” the carrier said. Rex described this as a precautionary move.
A spokeswoman told Aviation Daily, an Aviation Week Network publication, that the six grounded aircraft comprise two Saab 340s based in Sydney (including the aircraft that lost its propeller), two aircraft based in Melbourne, and two freighters operated by Rex subsidiary Pel-Air. There could be some disruptions to passenger services in the airline’s networks in the states of New South Wales and Victoria over the next few days, the spokeswoman said.
Rex has also released more details of the incident. The carrier said the right-hand engine showed “abnormal indications,” so the crew shut it down, in accordance with checklist procedures. Shutting down the engine also feathers the propeller and, “It was at this point that the propeller assembly was seen by the first officer to separate from its shaft,” the carrier said.
The propeller assembly was seen to “rotate upwards and to the right,” after which it was observed “rotating in a horizontal position, and then moving away without making contact with the aircraft.” Passengers and crew “reported that the flight thereafter was smooth and the landing was normal [despite] bad weather” in Sydney and winds of more than 35 kt.
A team of investigators has been dispatched to Sydney by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB). The propeller has not yet been located.
Rex stressed: “This is an extremely rare event.” The carrier believes “the only other recorded similar event” occurred in 1991 when a U.S. Comair airline landed safely after a separation of its propeller.
The Rex Group is Australia’s largest independent regional carrier, with a fleet of 55 Saab 340s. According to the Aviation Week Intelligence Network fleet database, all of its operational passenger aircraft are either 340B or 340B Plus models, powered with the General Electric CT7-9B engine.
Rex operates about 1,500 flights per week to 58 domestic destinations.