Boeing & Regulators Recommend Grounding Of B777 Jets With PW4000 Engines Following United Incident

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Following the engine failure on a United Airlines Boeing 777 this weekend, the Boeing Company has recommended to suspend flights with this plane type equipped with the PW4000 engines pending further investigation.

The uncontained engine failure of the Pratt&Whitney PW4000 that United’s B777 was equipped with has shocked passengers, those whose homes got hit with the debris on the ground and everyone who has seen the footage.

Now the incident will spread far beyond United Airlines as Boeing recommends the grounding of all the aircraft that have PW4000’s mounted on their wings.

The impact is dampened by the fact that there are currently very few flights operating as the Covid-19 pandemic and border closures resulted in extremely limited air traffic activity. Those carriers who have this constellation of aircraft/engine will likely be able to just substitute them with another plane in their fleet.

The airlines are probably happier to ground their planes for a few weeks instead of having another incident such as on Saturday:

The Japan Civil Aviation Bureau was the first following the incident to take action ordering all Japanese carriers to ground B777 aircraft with PW4000 engines pending further development.

Reuters has reported about it today:

Boeing Co said it recommended suspending the use of 777 jets with the same type of engine that shed debris over Denver at the weekend after U.S. regulators announced extra inspections and Japan suspended their use while considering further action.

The moves involving Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines came after a United Airlines 777 landed safely in Denver on Saturday local time after its right engine failed.

United said the next day it would voluntarily and temporarily remove its 24 active planes, hours before Boeing’s announcement.

Boeing said 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.

Indeed some of these Boeing 777’s that are still in the air are close to three decades old and while that’s not necessarily a problem with proper maintenance and continuous updates to the cabin but still…

The passengers of the ill fated United flight to Honolulu got a replacement bird that wasn’t all that fresh either:

Again one of the oldest planed in UA’s fleet. One has to admire the guts of United’s flight planners.

This is the Press Release by Boeing:

“Boeing is actively monitoring recent events related to United Airlines Flight 328. While the NTSB investigation is ongoing, we recommended suspending operations of the 69 in-service and 59 in-storage 777s powered by Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines until the FAA identifies the appropriate inspection protocol.

Boeing supports the decision yesterday by the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau, and the FAA’s action today to suspend operations of 777 aircraft powered by Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines. 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.

Updates will be provided as more information becomes available.”

I think it’s important to emphasize here that while the name of the air frame manufacturer is always in the news when it comes to situations such as these, the real blame is usually with the manufacturer of the engines which in this case is Pratt & Whitney. Back with the Qantas A380 accident the engines were manufactured by Rolls Royce and that lead to a worldwide shutdown of most A380 aircraft.

Conclusion

Until the situation surrounding the engine failure is resolved, the recommendation of Boeing as well as some aviation regulators to let the 777 with PW4000’s sit on the ground will remain in place.

This has happened many times before and usually manufacturers and regulators react by issuing an Airworthiness Directive (AD) that instructs operators to respond with maintenance to rectify the issue. One has to wait what the outcome of this will be while the NTSB, Boeing and engineers of P&W are investigating the matter.

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