Last Saturday, a Boeing 777-220 of the American company United Airlines, which had just taken off from Denver (Colorado) for Honolulu (Hawaii), with 231 passengers and ten crew members on board, had seen its right engine catch fire and lose its fairing. The pilots had to make an emergency U-turn.
As the plane returned to the airport, a shower of debris, some large, had fallen on a residential area in suburban Denver. No one was injured on the ground and the aircraft was able to land safely.
The American aircraft manufacturer recommended Sunday evening the suspension of flights of the 128 aircraft concerned in the world. A spokesperson confirmed on Monday that they were all immobilized. Of these, 69 were in service, including 24 at United Airlines, 13 at Japan Airlines (JAL), 19 at All Nippon Airways (ANA), 7 at Asiana and 6 at Korean Air. The other 59 devices were stored separately.
In the United States, the Federal Aviation Regulatory Authority (FAA) has ordered additional inspections on these Pratt & Whitney-powered Boeing 777s, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is also investigating the ‘incident.
“A preliminary on-site examination indicates damage consistent with metal fatigue,” Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the NTSB said Monday.
He also confirmed that two of the fan blades had been damaged. One of them was found on a soccer field, the other remained lodged in the engine.
FAA officials met with representatives from Boeing and Pratt & Whitney on Sunday evening.
The US engine manufacturer said he was cooperating with the NTSB and “will continue to work to ensure the safe operation of the fleet”. United Airlines, for its part, has decided to withdraw the aircraft from its flight schedule and will continue to work closely with regulators to determine additional steps ”.
On Monday, the United Kingdom decided 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.
New test for Boeing
Boeing’s share lost more than 2% on the stock market on Monday. The incident is another setback for the aircraft manufacturer, which is just recovering from the crisis of the 737 MAX, its flagship aircraft which was grounded in May 2019 after two accidents that killed 346 people.
After a nearly two-year ban, a change in the flight control software, and the implementation of new pilot training protocols, the 737 MAX was recently cleared again.
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.
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.
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