Plane that crashed increasingly popular

November 01, 1994|By Stephen Power | Stephen Power,Dallas Morning News

The American Eagle turboprop that crashed yesterday was a state-of-the art model that is increasingly popular among commuter airlines.

Built especially for takeoffs from small airports, the European-made Super ATR 72 is outfitted with what aviators call multifunction displays -- video screens that combine the capabilities of various cockpit instruments.

The plane has had a good safety record for the last year and a half, one expert said, but because it has been on the market for only 5 1/2 years, its long-term safety is unproven.

"It has a long way to go before you can say it's one of the finest airliners in history," said Jay Miller, a Fort Worth, Texas, aviation consultant. "But until tonight, it had a virtually unblemished record."

The American Eagle Super ATR that crashed near Roselawn, Ind., was only 7 months old and had logged just 1,300 flying hours, an airline spokesman said.

The twin-turboprop Super ATR 72 carries a maximum of 64 passengers and a crew of four. It is built by Avions De Transport Regional -- a consortium of Aerospatiale of France and Alenia of Italy -- in Blagnac Cedex, France.

"It is the newest type of aircraft to have entered the American Eagle fleet," American Eagle spokesman Tim Smith said.

Company officials said the plane that crashed was not due for a major overhaul for another 700 hours.

"We operate our aircraft to the same standards as a major airline," said Marty Heires, spokesman for American Eagle.

American Eagle has 26 Super ATR 72 craft in service, plus some smaller ATR planes. The Super ATR is the largest plane in the American Eagle fleet.

American Eagle has been flying Super ATRs since 1989, the year the plane entered service; about 400 of the craft are in use worldwide, company officials said.

A security guard who answered the phone at ATR's headquarters last night said the company was aware of the Indiana crash but would have no comment until company officials had time to visit the site themselves.

ATR-type aircraft have been involved in at least two non-fatal accidents in recent months.

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