Following the engine failure of United’s 777 last week, the FAA has requested an immediate grounding of all Boeing 777 aircraft equipped with the Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines. The particular engine comes with hollow fan blades, which are believed to be the cause for the incident last week. The FAA will be conducting thermal inspections on the engine over the next several weeks to determine if the engine will be safe and worthy to fly. The grounding of Boeing 777s equipped with this specific engine is the second grounding of Boeing aircraft in the last few years, although in this case, it is the engine manufacturer’s fault, not Boeing’s.
Reason For Grounding
The decision to ground all Boeing 777s equipped with the Pratt & Whitney engines comes after several accidents involved with this type of aircraft in the past. The grounding does not solely come from this one incident last week. For example, back in 2018, another United 777 equipped with the PW4000 experienced an almost identical accident to last week’s one, when one of its engines failed and parts fell off. That 2018 flight shares some striking similarities with the flight last week, not to mention that it was also heading to Honolulu. Another example of trouble with the PW4000 engine involves a Japan Airlines flight back in December of 2020. The same type of 777 with Japan Airline experienced an engine failure after two fan blades broke off the engine, which is the same cause of the accident last week with United. These accidents cumulatively prove that an issue with the PW4000 engine is apparent; they were not just one-time mistakes that randomly happened.
The poor and faulty function of these Pratt & Whitney engines could possibly be related to the aircraft being in storage for so long during the pandemic. Coincidently, on the exact same day of the United engine failure last week, a 747 aircraft in the Netherlands powered with a smaller version of the Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines also experienced an engine failure and dropped metal parts over the city. This occurrence was very similar to the United engine failure on that same day. Furthermore, in the week following these incidents, a Delta Airlines 757 made an emergency landing in Salt Lake City after an indicator warned the pilots of a possible issue with the engine. The aircraft in this emergency landing was also powered by engines from Pratt & Whitney.
In the meantime, Boeing has supported the FAA in the grounding of that specific type of Boeing 777 aircraft. As of last week, there were 69 of these planes in service and 59 in storage. United Airlines is the only US carrier to have these aircraft in their fleet. As of now, United, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, and All Nippon Airways have all grounded their 777 fleets with this engine. These grounding won’t cause too much damage to airlines, as these types of 777 are only a small portion of their entire fleet.
After all of this news about the 777, is the aircraft still safe to fly? The answer is a solid yes! There are several different variants of the 777, and the 777 affected by the grounding is just one type out of others. Boeing 777s are powered by an array of engines from several different manufacturers such as General Electric, Rolls Royce, and Trent. Most 777s are still reliable and safe to fly. But for now, it is fortunate that the 777 incident happened now with such minor severity, rather than later. If this engine failure had happened later and if people had not been as lucky as the passengers on the United flight, catastrophic and fatal events could have happened, especially with a plane as large as the 777. It is lucky that the FAA can take action now, so that possible future incidents from this could be prevented.
Cover image credited to CBC