Tuesday, February 23, 2021

US giant Boeing shaken by another blow


Boeing 777s powered by Pratt & Whitney engines are grounded after a serious incident.

Boeing didn’t need one more deal, as it tries to weather an unprecedented series of crises that resulted in nearly $ 12 billion in losses last year. Now the aircraft manufacturer and regulators in several countries are asking companies operating the Model 777 equipped with Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines to nail the aircraft to the ground. This follows the spectacular reactor fire on a plane of this type over Colorado on Saturday February 20.

Only 69 copies of the aircraft are affected. The other 59 were already stranded due to the collapse in air traffic for a year. However, the case brings the spotlight back to Boeing and its engine partner, Pratt & Whitney. Boeing 777s equipped with General Electric and Rolls Royce engines, on the other hand, are not affected. Over the weekend, Boeing intervened immediately as US, Japanese and Korean regulators raised alarm over the serious take-off incident on Saturday involving a United Airlines 777. National authorities have ordered an immediate inspection of the 777 powered by the PW4000 to avoid a possible disaster with these long-haul aircraft often used over oceans, far from any emergency airstrip.

While no casualties were to be deplored, the 241 passengers on United flight 328 from Denver to Honolulu watched with horror as the hood and air intake of engine number two were detached from the plane carrying them. The huge pieces and some other debris fell on a suburban area, before the pilots turned around to land in Denver in an emergency, but without incident, less than twenty-five minutes after takeoff.

Industrial disasters

A preliminary inspection by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the US federal office for transportation accidents, reveals that two blades of the reactor fan have broken: one at the root of the blade, the other at mid-length. The other blades show damage at the tips and at the leading edge. Fortunately, the detachment of debris did not seriously affect the fuselage or the wings of the aircraft.

Boeing and Pratt & Whitney, now a subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies, are working with national regulators to determine the reasons for these problems and decide on solutions. Under pressure from the US Congress, whose investigations have highlighted a major inadequacy given to Boeing’s security priorities in recent years, the Chicago aircraft manufacturer no longer has the right to make mistakes. Especially since two other incidents similar to that of last weekend are already to be deplored: one in December 2020 on a Japan Airlines 777 en route to Tokyo, and the other in February 2018 on a United Airlines 777. to Hawaii.

They also involve the wear of blades and the detachment of an engine cover. More frequent and more rigorous inspections of the blades have certainly been demanded by regulators. They clearly did not prevent the incident of last Saturday. In addition, the Dutch authorities announced on Monday the opening of two investigations, after the fall of debris from a Boeing 747 400 cargo plane on Saturday, which injured two people in the south of the Netherlands.

The event this weekend in Colorado adds to a long series of industrial disasters for Boeing. The list begins with the March 2019-last November flight ban of the 737 Max, after two tragedies that killed 346 people and exposed flaws in the design and initial certification of the device, including admission of fraud by some Boeing officials. It continues with program delays for the 777X, the new 777 model that will not enter service before the end of 2023.

Not to mention the many broken promises in the program for the KC-46, a refueling plane ordered by the Pentagon in 2011, which continues to pose problems that have cost Boeing at least $ 5 billion. The aircraft will also not enter service in combat situations until the end of 2023. In addition, in recent months, the US regulator has discovered quality defects in the fuselage assembly of the 787 Dreamliner. These irregularities have forced deliveries to customers of some 80 copies to be suspended.

The catastrophic economic context created by the Covid-19 pandemic and the 66% drop in global air traffic in 2020 exacerbates these difficulties. The airline customers of Boeing, and its European rival Airbus, find themselves bloodless and dependent on public aid for a still undetermined period. So that Boeing, last year, had to admit the cancellation of 1,200 orders and delivered only 157 aircraft, the lowest number since 1984. Its order book fell to 4,055.

The 737 Max scandal prompted Boeing’s board of directors to sack the group’s boss, Dennis Muilenburg, just over a year ago. The latter had certainly not played a direct role in the controversial certification of the 737 Max in 2017. On the other hand, he was blamed for the management of the crisis from October 2018, date of the first fatal accident of the most popular of the Boeing range. His successor, David Calhoun, had served on the board of directors of the aircraft manufacturer for ten years. The 777 engine case represents yet another challenge for this former General Electric, who has promised to restore the culture of the American aeronautic giant in order to place safety above commercial priorities.

SEE ALSO – In the United States, a Boeing’s reactor catches fire in mid-flight, causing a shower of debris



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