Dozens of Boeing 777 aircraft grounded after engine failure

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Dozens of Boeing 777 aircraft have been grounded in the US and Japan after an engine failure that caused debris to be strewn across a Denver suburb. 

The US Federal Aviation Administration on Sunday ordered inspections of the Boeing 777 planes with Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines after the incident that resulted in an emergency landing of a United Airlines flight the day before.

Japan’s ministry of transport grounded domestic airlines using the planes with those particular engines.

United said it was voluntarily and temporarily removing its 24 active Boeing 777 aircraft powered by this model of engine and working with regulators to ensure they can return to service. The airline also has 28 of these jets in storage. 

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Steve Dickinson, the FAA administrator, said the agency is meeting with Boeing and Pratt & Whitney. 

“We reviewed all available safety data following yesterday’s incident. Based on the initial information, we concluded that the inspection interval should be stepped up for the hollow fan blades that are unique to this model of engine, used solely on Boeing 777 airplanes,” he said. 

In a statement released on Sunday, Japan grounded 777s equipped with the engines until the US incident has been investigated and it is clear whether any corrective action is necessary.

This handout photo courtesy of Broomfield Police Department shows debris fallen from a United Airlines airplane’s engine in Broomfield, outside Denver, Colorado © Broomfield Police Department/AFP

The transport ministry said it had ordered stepped-up maintenance on the engines after a serious incident last December when a 777 suffered engine problems on departure from Naha airport in Okinawa.

Thirty-two aircraft are registered in Japan with the PW4000 engine, said the ministry: 13 operated by JAL and 19 belonging to ANA.

United flight 328 had to quickly return to Denver airport on Saturday after debris, which appeared to be an engine cover, fell from the aircraft on to a suburban yard shortly after take-off. 

In a statement, United said safety is its highest priority. “That’s why our pilots and flight attendants take part in extensive training to prepare and manage incidents like United flight 328,” it said. 

Boeing is still reeling from the 18-month grounding of its 737 Max aircraft as well as the impact of the pandemic on demand for its aircraft. It posted a record loss in 2020. Two 737 Max crashes in October 2018 and March 2019 killed 346 people.

The US lifted a grounding order on those jets late last year, while the European Union cleared the planes in January.

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