Houston Chronicle

Engine explosion spurs Boeing 777 groundings

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Boeing has recommende­d that airlines ground all 777s with the type of engine that blew apart after takeoff from Denver this weekend, and most carriers that fly those planes said they would temporaril­y pull them from service.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administra­tion ordered United Airlines to step up inspection­s of the aircraft after one of its flights made an emergency landing at Denver Internatio­nal Airport on Saturday as pieces of the casing of the engine, a Pratt & Whitney PW4000, rained down on suburban neighborho­ods. None of the 231 passengers or 10 crew was hurt, and the flight landed safely, authoritie­s said. United is among the carriers that has grounded the planes.

FAA Administra­tor Steve Dickson said in a statement Sunday that based on an initial review of safety data, inspectors “concluded that the inspection interval should be stepped up for the hollow fan blades that are unique to this model of engine, used solely on Boeing 777 airplanes.”

Dickson said that would likely mean some planes would be grounded — and Boeing said they should be until the FAA sets up an inspection regime. Japan ordered the planes out of service, according to the financial newspaper Nikkei, while noting that an engine in the same family suffered trouble in December.

Boeing said there were 69 777s with the Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines in service and another 59 in storage.

United had 24 of the planes in service; it is the only U.S. airline with the engine in its fleet, according to the FAA. Two Japanese airlines have another 32 that are being pulled while Asiana Airlines grounded nine, seven of which were in service, until Boeing establishe­s a plan to fix the problems.

Korean Air said it was discussing whether to ground 16 aircraft, six of which are in service.

“We are working with these regulators as they take actions while these planes are on the ground and further inspection­s are conducted by Pratt & Whitney,” Boeing said in a statement issued Sunday, referring to American and Japanese regulators.

The engine maker said it was sending a team to work with investigat­ors.

The emergency landing this past weekend is the latest trouble for Boeing, which saw its 737 Max planes grounded for more than a year after two deadly crashes in 2019 and is suffering amid the huge reduction in air travel due to the coronaviru­s pandemic. The Max planes began returning to the skies late last year — a huge boost for the aircraft maker, which lost billions during the grounding because it has been unable to deliver new planes to customers.

Video posted on Twitter from Saturday’s emergency showed the engine fully engulfed in flames as the plane flew through the air.

Passengers, who were headed to Honolulu, said they feared the plane would crash after an explosion and flash of light, while people on the ground saw huge chunks of the aircraft pour down, just missing one home and crushing a truck. The explosion, visible from the ground, left a trail of black smoke in the sky.

The U.S. National Transporta­tion Safety Board said that two of the engine’s fan blades were fractured and the remainder of the fan blades “exhibited damage.” But it cautioned that it was too early to draw conclusion­s about what happened.

United says it will work closely with the FAA and the NTSB “to determine any additional steps that are needed to ensure these aircraft meet our rigorous safety standards and can return to service.”

Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastruc­ture, Transport and Tourism said an engine in the PW4000 family suffered trouble on a Japan Airlines 777 flying to Tokyo from Naha on Dec. 4. The airline has said the plane had engine trouble after takeoff and returned to Naha. An inspection showed damage to the engine case and missing fan blades, according to the airline. Stricter inspection­s were ordered in response.

 ?? David Ryder / Getty Images ?? Workers stand near a Pratt & Whitney engine on a Boeing KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueling jet built for the U.S. Air Force at Boeing’s airplane production facility in Everett, Wash., on Monday.
David Ryder / Getty Images Workers stand near a Pratt & Whitney engine on a Boeing KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueling jet built for the U.S. Air Force at Boeing’s airplane production facility in Everett, Wash., on Monday.

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