Boeing once again in hot waters

Boeing 777 planes are temporarily stopped from flying after engine failure, FAA demands stepped-up inspection

Boeing Co had to recommend suspending the use of 777 jets with the same type of engine that shed debris over Denver at the weekend after US regulators announced extra inspections and Japan and South Korea suspended their use while considering further action.

The announcement came after a United Airlines 777 landed safely in Denver on Saturday local time, but its right Pratt & Whitney PW4000  engine failed terribly. The Federal Aviation Administration immediately said it would require stepped-up inspections of 777 aircraft with Pratt & Whitney PW4000 series engines after the failure which would require some planes to be temporarily taken out of service.

United Airlines said then late Sunday it will immediately halt all flights by its fleet of 24 Boeing 777 airplanes with the same type of engine involved in Saturday’s emergency landing in Denver. United also announced it will continue discussions with US regulators “to determine any additional steps that are needed to ensure these aircraft meet our rigorous safety standards and can return to service.”

Boeing, for its part, commented 69 of the planes were in service and 59 were in storage, at a time when airlines have grounded planes due to a plunge in demand associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The manufacturer recommended airlines suspend operations until U.S. regulators identified the appropriate inspection protocol.

The 777-200s and 777-300s affected are older and less fuel-efficient than newer models and most operators are phasing them out of their fleets. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said its initial examination of the plane indicated most of the damage was confined to the right engine, with only minor damage to the airplane. It said the inlet and casing separated from the engine and two fan blades were fractured, while the remainder of the fan blades exhibited damage.

United is the only US operator of the planes, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The other airlines using them are in Japan and South Korea, the US agency said.

By Monday, however, Japan’s transport ministry ordered Japan Airlines Co Ltd (JAL) and ANA Holdings Inc to suspend the use of 777s with PW4000 engines while it considered whether to take additional measures. The ministry said that on 4 December, 2020, a JAL flight from Naha Airport to Tokyo returned to Naha due to a similar malfunction in the left engine. Japan said ANA operated 19 of the type and JAL operated 13 of them, though the airlines said their use had been reduced during the pandemic. JAL said its fleet was due for retirement by March 2022.

An official at South Korea’s transport ministry also said it was waiting for formal action by the FAA before giving a directive to its airlines. The US agency said it would soon issue an emergency airworthiness directive.

Korean Air Lines Co Ltd, which has 16 of the planes, 10 of them stored, said on Monday it grounded the remaining six it had in operation of its own volition.

Asiana Airlines Inc, which has nine 777s with Pratt & Whitney engines, said it is in discussion with Boeing and the relevant authorities on what measure to take.

In February 2018, a 777 of the same age operated by United and bound for Honolulu suffered an engine failure when a cowling fell off about 30 minutes before the plane landed safely. The NTSB determined that incident was the result of a full-length fan blade fracture.

Because of that 2018 incident, Pratt & Whitney reviewed inspection records for all previously inspected PW4000 fan blades, the NTSB said. The FAA in March 2019 issued a directive requiring initial and recurring inspections of the fan blades on the PW4000 engines.

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