FAA demands emergency inspection of select Boeing 777s after midair explosion ripped engine into pieces
United Airlines, the only US operator with this type of engine in its fleet, said it would ground the affected planes immediately
Federal Aviation Administration administrator Steve Dickson has ordered the agency's aviation safety experts to issue an Emergency Airworthiness Directive, requiring "immediate or stepped-up inspections of Boeing 777 airplanes equipped with certain Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines."
"This will likely mean that some airplanes will be removed from service," Dickson said in a statement posted to Twitter.
According to the FAA, aviation safety experts are meeting into the evening with Pratt & Whitney and Boeing to finalize the details of the order and any accompanying service bulletins in order to ensure that the appropriate airplanes are included. Exact details of the inspection will be specified in the emergency order.
Dickson added that the agency is "working closely with other civil aviation authorities to make this information available to affected operators in their jurisdictions.”
UNITED FLIGHT'S ENGINE CATCHES FIRE AFTER DENVER TAKEOFF, RETURNS TO AIRPORT SAFELY
The move comes in response to United Airlines flight 328, which experienced an engine failure after taking off from Denver International Airport on Saturday. The airplane landed safely after dropping debris over northern Colorado, officials said.
The Boeing 777 was heading from Denver to Honolulu with 231 passengers and 10 crew aboard when its right engine failed and erupted in flames. The plane quickly lost altitude and dropped huge pieces of the engine casing and chunks of fiberglass onto the neighborhoods below. Authorities said no injuries were reported aboard the plane or on the ground where debris fell.
"We reviewed all available safety data following yesterday’s incident," Dickson said. "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."
Boeing said in a statement that it is "actively monitoring recent events related to United Airlines Flight 328" and that, while an investigation into the incident by the National Transportation Safety Board is underway, it recommends "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."
The National Transportation Safety Board said in a Sunday evening investigation update that an intitial examination indicated that the airplane sustained minor damage, most of which was "confined to the number 2 engine."
Investigators noted that the inlet, a duct which is required to ensure smooth airflow into the engine, and a cowling, the removable metal covering that houses the engine, were separated from the engine. In addition, two fan blades were fractured while the remainder of the blades exhibited damage to their tips and leading edges.
The NTSB added that investigators continue to examine the engine, airplane and the photographs and video taken by passengers aboard United flight 328 and that the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder were transported to the agency's laboratory in Washington where each will be downloaded and analyzed.
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According to the most recent registry data, airlines in only three countries operate airplanes with the affected engines: the United States, Japan, and South Korea. United Airlines, the only U.S. operator with this type of engine in its fleet, said it would ground the affected planes immediately.
"Starting immediately and out of an abundance of caution, we are voluntarily and temporarily removing 24 Boeing 777 aircraft powered by Pratt & Whitney 4000 series engines from our schedule. Since yesterday, we’ve been in touch with regulators at the NTSB and FAA and will continue to work closely with them to determine any additional steps that are needed to ensure these aircraft meet our rigorous safety standards and can return to service," a United spokesperson told FOX Business in a statement. "As we swap out aircraft, we expect only a small number of customers to be inconvenienced.”
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In addition to its 24 active aircrafts, United has 28 additional Boeing 777s in storage.
"Safety remains our highest priority - for our employees and our customers," the spokesperson added. "That’s why our pilots and flight attendants take part in extensive training to prepare and manage incidents like United flight 328. And we remain proud of their professionalism and steadfast dedication to safety in our day to day operations and when emergencies like this occur."
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The FAA said it was also aware that the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau has directed operators equipped with this type of engine to cease flying in Japan until further notice. A Japan Airlines flight taking off from Naha Airport in Okinawa to Haneda Airport in Tokyo made an emergency landing for similar Boeing 777 engine trouble in December.
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Pratt & Whitney, a division of Raytheon Technologies, said that it has dispatched a team to work with the NTSB on the United Airlines Flight 328 investigation and is "actively coordinating with operators and regulators to support the revised inspection interval of the Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines that power Boeing 777 aircraft."
"Any further investigative updates regarding this event will be at the discretion of the NTSB," the company said in a statement. "Pratt & Whitney will continue to work to ensure the safe operation of the fleet."
Boeing said that it "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," Boeing added. "Updates will be provided as more information becomes available."
Fox News' Matthew Reidy contributed to this report