NEW YORK: Authorities are working “non-stop” after a stunning engine failure on a US flight that halted dozens of Boeing 777s around the world, the head of the Air Traffic Control Authority said Tuesday.
The bug caused a United Airlines plane bound for Honolulu on Saturday to scatter debris over the suburb of Denver, although no one was injured in the air or on the ground.
“We want to understand what happened and take steps to prevent a similar recurrence,” said Steve Dickson, head of the Federal Aviation Administration, at the Air Safety Board meeting.
“We are fortunate that there have been no deaths or injuries,” Dickson said, adding that the agency is working to develop new airworthiness regulations to require extensive inspections.
The comments came after investigators cited metal fatigue as the main suspect in the accident – A new setback for Boeing, which recently restarted shipments of the long-running 737 MAX after two fatal accidents.
Aviation experts said it also raises new questions about the Federal Aviation Administration, which has come under heavy attack for its oversight of Boeing in the 737 MAX certification, and whether maintenance is adequate on board.
US officials said Tuesday that even before the Denver accident, US air safety regulators were weighing stricter checks on aircraft and Pratt & Whitney engines.
A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Tuesday that the Federal Aviation Administration has reviewed inspection records and maintenance history after the Japan Airlines fan blade accident on December 4 last year “to determine the cause of the breakage and is assessing whether blade inspections should be modified.”
The flight landed in Japan without injuries.
After the February 2018 crash on another United Airlines plane, the Federal Aviation Administration reviewed 9,000 propeller blade inspection reports and issued an airworthiness directive setting new rules for inspections.
In a Monday night briefing, the National Transportation Safety Board said it was too early to tell if the problem in Denver was similar to that of the Japan Airlines flight, or the February 2018 incident, which involved another Boeing 777 engine and Pratt & Whitney.
“Initial on-site inspection indicates damage consistent with metal fatigue,” said Robert Sumwalt, president of NTSB, at the press conference.
He said two of the propeller blades crashed into the No.2 engine of a Boeing 777-200 on Saturday. One of them was later found on a soccer field, while the other remained in the engine.
Somwalt said the National Transportation Safety Board is also planning to look at the inspection log of the United plane to see “who knows what, when, what could have been done and what should have been done.”
“Fatigue means you can have a crack in the material and when you load it over and over again, the crack grows slowly,” said Robert Kilb, a professor in the Duke University School of Engineering.
“This is an example of an event where we learn something about design 20 years after it goes into service, and then we immediately install the fleet, see what’s going on and fix it.”
A headache for Boeing
In the wake of the Denver accident, Boeing said that all 777 777s with Pratt & Whitney engines have ceased operating.
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, All Nippon Airways, South Korean Asiana and Korean Airlines.
Monday night, a Delta Airlines flight aboard a Boeing 757 that was en route to Seattle from Atlanta to Salt Lake City was diverted “out of extreme caution after an indicator warning of a potential problem with one of its engines,” according to a Delta spokesperson. She said.
“The plane landed safely without incident and was taken to the gate without assistance.”
Boeing recently resumed deliveries of the 737 MAX aircraft after a 20-month global hiatus after two accidents killed 346 people.
MAX began to return to commercial service in late 2020, as airline travel continues to decline 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.
“It’s not a real problem for Boeing,” he said. “It’s more of a maintenance issue – How United or Pratt & Whitney maintains engines that have been in use for a while. ”
Scott Hamilton of the Leeham News aviation news site said the episode was “an embarrassing title, but as a practical issue, it won’t have any impact on Boeing.”