Boeing’s regional headquarters in Arlington, April 2020, Virginia (AFP / Olivier DOULIERY)
Part of the global Boeing 777 fleet, those equipped with the type of engine involved in a spectacular incident on a United Airlines flight in the United States, is now grounded.
The American aircraft manufacturer had recommended Sunday evening the suspension of flights of the 128 aircraft concerned around the world, and a spokeswoman confirmed to AFP on Monday that they were all immobilized.
In the United States, the Federal Aviation Regulatory Authority (FAA) has ordered additional inspections on these Boeing 777s powered by Pratt & Whitney, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is also investigating the ‘incident.
The United Kingdom decided on Monday to ban its airspace to the Boeing 777s concerned. And Japan’s Transport Ministry said it ordered more stringent inspections of the Pratt & Whitney engine after a Japan Airlines (JAL) 777 flew from Tokyo Haneda Airport to Naha on the island of Okinawa, experienced problems with “one engine from the same family” in December.
According to the Egyptian daily Al Ahram, the state-owned company Egyptair will also immobilize four of its Boeing 777-200s. However, the latter were not currently in service but in reserve, according to a source close to the manufacturer.
A Boeing 777-220 of the American company United Airlines which had just taken off Saturday from Denver (Colorado) for Honolulu (Hawaii) with 231 passengers and 10 crew members suffered a spectacular failure. The right engine caught fire and lost its fairing, and the pilots had to make an emergency U-turn.
As the plane returned to Denver Airport, a shower of debris, some large, fell in a residential area in Broomfield, a suburb of Denver. No one was injured on the ground, according to local authorities. The aircraft was able to land safely.
– New setback –
Of the 128 grounded planes, 69 were in service: 24 at United Airlines, 13 at Japan Airlines (JAL), 19 at All Nippon Airways (ANA), 7 at Asiana and 6 at Korean Air. 59 aircraft were stored separately, the need for planes that can carry many passengers having melted since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Residents photograph the wreckage of a Boeing 777 that fell on the residential suburb of Broomfield, near Denver, on February 20, 2021 in Colorado (AFP / Chet Strange)
If the incident was not injured, it represents a new setback for Boeing, whose title lost more than 2% Monday on the stock market.
FAA official Steve Dickson said a preliminary review of safety data revealed the need for additional checks on the affected engine’s fan blades, which are used only on this type of engine.
FAA officials met with representatives from Pratt & Whitney and Boeing on Sunday evening.
The NTSB said on Sunday that according to the preliminary investigation, two of the blades fractured on one of the engines of United Airlines’ Boeing.
During a press briefing Monday on the progress of the investigation, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt confirmed that two of the fan blades had been damaged. “Our mission is to understand not only what happened, but also why it happened, so that we can prevent it from happening again,” Mr Sumwalt said.
United Airlines Boeing 777-220 flight plotted with an engine on fire on February 20 after taking off from Denver (AFP /)
In the immediate future, we will have to “sift through the engines that are in service to see if there are any cracks, and understand what happened”, explained Michel Merluzeau, expert from the AIR firm. .
“We have to determine if this is a metallurgical, maintenance, manufacturing or operational problem, it will take some time,” he added.
The incident comes as Boeing is barely recovering from the crisis of the 737 MAX, the aircraft maker’s flagship aircraft which was grounded in May 2019 after two accidents that killed 346.
After nearly two years of a ban, a modification of the flight control software and the implementation of new pilot training protocols, the 737 MAX was recently cleared again for flight.
Boeing is also, like its rival Airbus, affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and its catastrophic consequences on international air transport. This health crisis led to the cancellation of orders for hundreds of devices.
Debris from a Boeing fell in the residential suburb of Broomfield, near Denver, after an in-flight engine fire on February 20, 2021 in Colorado (AFP / Chet Strange)
The Dutch authorities also announced Monday the opening of two investigations after the fall two days earlier of debris from a Boeing 747-400 cargo plane, which injured two people in the south of the Netherlands.
Several experts believe that the 777 incident in the United States is more of a maintenance or engine problem than the design of the plane by Boeing. In service for more than 25 years without major accident, the device “has a very solid reputation”, underlined Michel Merluzeau.
The current problem “has nothing to compare” with the crisis of the Boeing 737 MAX, also estimated Richard Aboulafia, an analyst of the Teal Group, specialist in aeronautics.
“After all these years of service it is unlikely that this is an engine design issue, it is definitely something to do with maintenance,” he said.
bur-wat-jum / juj / plh / ybl
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