New York: Dozens of Boeing 777s landed around the world on Monday after a weekend scare on a United Airlines plane that suffered an engine failure and scattered debris over the Denver suburb.
The flight from Denver – which quickly returned to the airport after part of the engine caught fire and exploded – prompted United and other airlines to make plans using the same Pratt & Whitney engine.
Although no one was injured in the Denver crash, the accident is the latest setback for Boeing, which only recently resumed deliveries of long-range 737 MAX jets after two fatal crashes.
Aviation experts said the accident raised questions about Pratt & Whitney and United about engine maintenance.
“It doesn’t look like the MAX,” said Richard Abulafia, an aviation analyst at the Teal Group. “After all these years of service, there is unlikely to be a problem with the engine design, it definitely comes down to maintenance.”
The Denver accident came on the heels of the Japan Airlines 777 accident in December which involved the same type of engine, as well as an engine problem in February 2018 on a United flight.
“There may be a common theme between the three incidents, but until the investigation is complete, we don’t know that,” said Scott Hamilton of the aviation news site Leeham News.
Boeing said all of the 128 777s with Pratt & Whitney engines had ground to a halt after the emergency landing on Saturday of United’s 328th flight to Hawaii.
Of the 128 aircraft, only 69 were in service while 59 were in storage.
Besides United, which scrapped 24 plans from service, affected airlines included Japanese airlines, Japan Airlines, First Nippon Airways, South Korean Airlines, Asiana and Korean Airlines.
The official Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram reported, on Monday, that the national airline, EgyptAir, will stop four planes with this type of engine.
British Transport Secretary Grant Shaps announced a temporary ban on aircraft with Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 series engines from entering UK airspace.
The engine is on fire
A video filmed from inside United’s plane – which had 231 passengers and 10 crew members on board – showed the right engine burning and swinging on the wing of a Boeing 777-200.
Residents in the Denver suburb of Broomfield found large pieces of plane scattered around their community.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered additional inspections after the accident.
Steve Dickson, head of the Federal Aviation Administration, said a review of the initial safety data indicated the need for additional checks of the jet-engine fan blades, which were unique to the model and only used on the 777s.
He added that officials from the Federal Aviation Administration met with representatives of Pratt & Whitney and Boeing on Sunday evening.
The US National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) said a preliminary investigation indicated that two propeller blades were broken on the No. 2 engine in the plan.
“The plane sustained minor damage,” the agency said in a statement Sunday. He added that “the examination and documentation of the aircraft is continuing.”
Pratt & Whitney said it is cooperating with the NTSB probe and will “continue to work to ensure the safe operation of the fleet.”
United said on Sunday it was removing the plane from its schedule and “will continue to work closely with the organizers to identify any additional steps.”
Japan’s Transportation Ministry said earlier that it ordered stricter engine inspections after a Japan Airlines 777 flight from Haneda to Naha encountered a problem with an “engine of the same family” in December.
Sailing down the industry
The engine failure is unwelcome news for Boeing, which is also facing a new investigation in the Netherlands after a Boeing 747-400 cargo plane rained down the small town of Mersen with the debris of two people injured – on the same day of the Denver accident.
“We have started a preliminary investigation,” said Luisa Huberitzi of the Dutch Safety Council, the organization responsible for investigating aviation accidents.
“But at this stage it is too early to draw any conclusions,” she told AFP.
Boeing recently resumed deliveries of the 737 MAX aircraft after a 20-month global hiatus following two tragic accidents that killed 346 people.
MAX began returning to commercial service in late 2020, at a time when airline travel has remained low due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Boeing executives said last month they expected it would take about three years for activity to return to pre-pandemic levels.
Michel Merloso, an expert at the consulting firm AIR, agreed that the latter problem did not appear to be caused by poor design of the aircraft by the airline giant.
“It’s not a real problem for Boeing,” he said. “It’s a matter of maintenance – how does United or Pratt & Whitney maintain engines that have been in use for a while.”
Hamilton of Leeham News said the episode was “an embarrassing headline, but as a practical issue, it won’t have an impact on Boeing.”
In a sign of weak demand for longer service plans during Covid-19, Hamilton has predicted that some carriers may choose to withdraw the plans rather than bring them back into service.
Boeing shares fell 2.1% to $ 212.88, while parent company Pratt & Whitney, Raytheon Technologies, fell 1.7% to $ 73.00.
United rose 3.5% to $ 49.70, joining other carriers on the rally after a positive note from Deutsche Bank about the industry outlook amid improving Covid-19 trends.