The Washington Post

United pulls some Boe­ing 777 jets af­ter en­gine fails

- BY DOU­GLAS MACMIL­LAN dou­glas.macmil­lan@wash­post.com Airlines · Transportation · Incidents · Industries · Boeing · United Airlines · Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport · United States of America · Japan · South Korea · National Transportation Safety Board · City and County of Broomfield, Colorado · United States Department of Justice · U.S. Federal Aviation Administration · Denver International Airport · Steve Dickson · Francis Pratt & Amos Whitney · Raytheon · Philippines Department of Justice · Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System

United Air­lines said on Sun­day that it is ground­ing 24 of its Boe­ing 777 air­craft af­ter the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion in­di­cated it would man­date in­spec­tions and “likely” re­move some of the jets from ser­vice.

The mea­sures come one day af­ter the en­gine of a Boe­ing 777200 failed shortly af­ter take­off from Denver In­ter­na­tional Air­port, scat­ter­ing pieces of de­bris across a half-mile res­i­den­tial area out­side the city. The plane was forced to land, and no in­juries were re­ported on the ground or among the flight’s 231 pas­sen­gers and 10 crew mem­bers.

In a state­ment Sun­day evening, FAA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Steve Dick­son said ini­tial data in­di­cated the need for more fre­quent main­te­nance of the Boe­ing 777 air­planes equipped with a type of en­gine called a Pratt & Whit­ney PW4000. In­ves­ti­ga­tors ap­pear to be fo­cused on a po­ten­tial mal­func­tion of a part that is unique to these en­gines called a hol­low fan blade.

The FAA said United is the only U.S. air car­rier with this type of en­gine in its fleet. The reg­u­la­tor said Ja­pan and South Korea are the only other coun­tries with air­lines that op­er­ate planes with the af­fected en­gines.

The Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board said Satur­day that it was in­ves­ti­gat­ing the causes of the en­gine fail­ure in­ci­dent, which lo­cal au­thor­i­ties said badly dam­aged at least one home and one ve­hi­cle.

United Air­lines, which op­er­ated the flight, said it is tem­po­rar­ily and vol­un­tar­ily pulling the planes from its fleet “out of an abun­dance of cau­tion” and is work­ing with in­ves­ti­ga­tors to de­ter­mine any ad­di­tional pre­cau­tions.

“As we swap out air­craft, we ex­pect only a small num­ber of cus­tomers to be in­con­ve­nienced,” United spokesman David Gon­za­lez said in an emailed state­ment.

In an emailed state­ment, Boe­ing spokesman Bradley Akubuiro said the com­pany is co­op­er­at­ing with in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

Pratt & Whit­ney, a sub­sidiary of Raytheon, did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Res­i­dents of Broom­field, a sub­urb of Denver, re­ported hear­ing a loud boom over­head, and a video posted to so­cial me­dia ap­peared to show the plane fly­ing with its en­gine on fire.

Au­thor­i­ties have not shared any de­tails on pos­si­ble causes of the fail­ure.

The in­ci­dent comes as Boe­ing tries to re­store public con­fi­dence in its planes. In De­cem­ber, Boe­ing’s 737 Max jets flew their first com­mer­cial flights since two crashes of the planes in 2018 and 2019 killed 346 peo­ple.

The Max crashes eroded the fly­ing public’s trust in Boe­ing, one of two ma­jor com­pa­nies that dom­i­nate com­mer­cial air­plane pro­duc­tion. Af­ter the in­ci­dents, Boe­ing halted pro­duc­tion of its flag­ship jet, fired its chief ex­ec­u­tive and agreed to pay more than $2.5 bil­lion to re­solve a crim­i­nal charge by the Jus­tice Depart­ment that it con­spired to de­fraud the FAA dur­ing a re­view of the 737 Max.

The Boe­ing 777-200 is a larger jet that has been in use since the 1990s. Ac­cord­ing to Boe­ing data, the jets have ex­pe­ri­enced less than one ma­jor ac­ci­dent per 1 mil­lion de­par­tures — one of the low­est ac­ci­dent rates of any ma­jor com­mer­cial jet­liner. The plane is not equipped with MCAS, the soft­ware that in­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve mal­func­tioned dur­ing both of the 737 Max in­ci­dents.

The FAA said the Ja­pan Civil Avi­a­tion Bu­reau has di­rected air­lines to cease fly­ing planes with the af­fected en­gines.

The NTSB typ­i­cally co­or­di­nates ac­ci­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tions with the help of the plane man­u­fac­turer, lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, the air­line and any parts man­u­fac­tur­ers that may have in­for­ma­tion rel­e­vant to a safety in­ci­dent. The agency be­gan re­triev­ing scat­tered de­bris and col­lect­ing it in an air­plane han­gar at Denver In­ter­na­tional Air­port over the week­end.

In Broom­field, au­thor­i­ties got hun­dreds of calls from res­i­dents who found pieces of de­bris, said Rachel Welte, the public in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer for Broom­field po­lice. One plane part fell through the roof of a home, and an­other badly dam­aged a truck, she said.

“Con­sid­er­ing how large the de­bris field was, it’s ab­so­lutely re­mark­able” that no one was in­jured, Welte said.

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