On Saturday a United Boeing 777 suffered a major engine failure shortly after takeoff, as debris from the engine “rained” on a Denver suburb. It’s important to note that while a 777 was the aircraft involved, it seems that this has more to do with the Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engine on the plane, rather than the plane as such.
United had a similar incident (at least on the surface) a few years back, and it was determined that it happened because the fan blades were weak, and Pratt & Whitney didn’t provide a formal program for training inspectors who examined fan blades.
Well, following this weekend’s incident, we’re seeing some airlines ground their 777 fleets with these engines, and some aviation authorities ban aircraft with this engines from their airspace altogether.
Boeing recommends suspended operations for 777s with Pratt & Whitney engines
Boeing has issued the following statement, “supporting” the grounding of 777s with Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines, until a proper inspection protocol has been identified for the engines:
“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.”
Globally there are a total of 69 Boeing 777s with these engines in service, and a total of 59 Boeing 777s with these engines in storage.
While this is only a recommendation from Boeing, some aviation authorities are taking it a step further. For example, Japanese aviation regulators have banned planes with these engines from Japanese airspace.
Some United 777s have Pratt & Whitney engines
United voluntarily grounds 777s with Pratt & Whitney engines
United Airlines has temporarily and voluntarily grounded its 24 Boeing 777s that feature Pratt & Whitney engines. This represents just under one-third of the carrier’s 777-200 fleet. The airline will work with regulators to determine any additional steps, and doesn’t expect customers to be inconvenienced much.
Airlines have a huge surplus of aircraft right now, so in that sense the timing is at least good, since United shouldn’t struggle to find replacement aircraft. The 777s being grounded are the earlier generation ones that are 15+ years old, as 777s delivered in recent years exclusively feature General Electric engines.
United is currently using 777s primarily for flights to & from Hawaii, so we can probably expect United to swap some 787s onto these routes for the time being.
Other airlines operating 777s with these engines include All Nippon Airways, Asiana Airlines, Japan Airlines, and Korean Air.
Some Korean Air 777s have Pratt & Whitney engines
Boeing 777s with Pratt & Whitney engines are now largely being grounded, following an incident on Saturday. United Airlines has voluntarily grounded its planes with these engines, Japan has banned planes with these engines, and Boeing supports suspension of operations for these planes.
The plan now is to figure out a new inspection procedure for these engines, to avoid a similar incident in the future. While we still don’t know the real cause of the incident, it’s interesting that United had a similar incident in 2018, and that was found to have been due to lack of a proper engine inspection procedure.
I’ll be curious to see if this grounding ends up lasting for a few days, a few weeks, or what…