(New York) The United States’ Aviation Police (FAA) on Tuesday ordered a thorough examination of Boeing 777 engine blades similar to those it had in a spectacular accident last week on a United Airlines flight before it could fly away.
The ultrasound examination of the titanium blades required by the regulator should enable the detection of any cracks invisible to the naked eye.
Depending on the findings and other elements of the ongoing investigation, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may decide to impose frequent inspections of Boeing 777s fitted with specific engines to the PW4000 manufactured by Pratt & Whitney.
A spokesperson for the engine manufacturer told AFP that all operating companies around the world will send the blades to Pratt & Whitney, which will conduct tests at its workshops in Connecticut, in the northeastern United States.
According to the company, which is coordinating with Boeing, airlines and aviation security agencies, “about 125 aircraft” have been affected.
According to Boeing, which has a slightly different number, 128 aircraft have been affected: 69 aircraft are currently in service with United Airlines, Japan Airlines (JAL), All Nippon Airlines (ANA), Asiana and Korean Airlines, and 59 are in reserve. The manufacturer, which on Sunday recommended suspending flights for more information, confirmed on Monday that they are all down.
The right-hand engine of a United Airlines plane of this type caught fire on Saturday shortly after taking off from Denver in the western US. As the plane was on its way back to the airport, a rain of debris fell on a residential area.
No one was injured, and the plane managed to land safely.
According to preliminary findings from an independently conducted investigation by the US Bureau in Charge of Transportation Safety, NTSB, the damage observed at the site was consistent with the “metallic stress” of the motor fan blades manufactured by Pratt & Whitney. This physical phenomenon is related to long-term use of a material, which may lead to cracks and possibly rupture of the structure.
Federal Aviation Administration Chairman Steve Dixon pledged at a webinar earlier Tuesday to work quickly to determine the cause of the accident and “take steps to prevent an event from happening. A similar event will happen in the future.”
The Federal Aviation Administration had already requested an increase in inspections after an earlier accident, in 2018, on a United flight between San Francisco and Honolulu, providing a review of all 6,500 flights.
The organization revealed on Monday that it had considered more tightened inspections after similar damage to a Japan Airlines plane in December 2020. But it had not yet done so when the accident occurred on Saturday.
After analyzing the elements related to the event, the Federal Aviation Administration was “in the process of assessing the need to control inspections” of the engines’ propeller blades, according to a letter sent to AFP.
The accident is also a blow to Boeing, which is just recovering from the setbacks of the 737 Max, its star plane, which was grounded for nearly two years after two fatal accidents.
The damage appears to be increasing for the manufacturer.
Dutch authorities have already opened investigations after the wreckage of a Boeing 747-400 freighter fell on Saturday, injuring two people in the south of the Netherlands.
A Delta Boeing 757 plane was also forced to land urgently in Salt Lake City on Monday, “as a precaution after warning an indicator of a possible problem in one of its engines,” according to the company.
The United Airlines flight incident also put the Federal Aviation Administration back in place, where it was criticized for its upstream oversight of the 737 MAX crisis, which many considered insufficient. Several aviation experts have also highlighted a potential maintenance issue.
Robert Kilb, an aerospace engineering specialist at Duke University, said all aircraft parts are designed to deal with potential malfunctions. He added to Agence France-Presse that Saturday “represents the perfect example of what should be done when the engine fails,” welcoming the role of the crew and air traffic controllers.
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