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Boeing says 777s with kind of engine that blew apart over Denver should be grounded

 An airplane with a burning engine flies toward the Denver airport.
United Airlines Flight 328 approaches Denver International Airport after experiencing “a right-engine failure” shortly after takeoff Feb. 20.
(Hayden Smith via Associated Press)

Boeing Co. has recommended that airlines ground all 777s with the type of engine that blew apart after takeoff from Denver this weekend, and most carriers that fly those planes said they would temporarily pull them from service.

For the record:

4:21 AM, Feb. 22, 2021A previous version of this article referred to an airline as Japan Airways. It is Japan Airlines.

The Federal Aviation Administration ordered United Airlines to step up inspections of the aircraft after one of its flights made an emergency landing at Denver International Airport on Saturday as pieces of the casing of the engine, a Pratt & Whitney PW4000, rained down on suburban neighborhoods. None of the 231 passengers or 10 crew members were hurt, and the flight landed safely, authorities said. United is among the carriers that have grounded the planes.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement Sunday that based on an initial review of safety data, inspectors “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.”

Dickson said that would probably mean some planes would be grounded — and Boeing said Sunday that they should be until the FAA sets up an inspection regimen.

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Boeing said there were 69 of its 777s with the Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines in service and an additional 59 in storage.

United had 24 of the planes in service; it is the only U.S. airline with the engine in its fleet, according to the FAA. Two Japanese airlines have a total of 32 that are being pulled. Asiana Airlines grounded nine, seven of which were in service, until Boeing establishes a plan to fix the problems. Korean Air said it was discussing whether to ground 16 aircraft, six of which are in service.

About two years after a pair of deadly crashes, the Boeing 737 Max plane is about to start flying passengers to and from Los Angeles International Airport again.

“We are working with these [U.S. and Japanese] regulators as they take actions while these planes are on the ground and further inspections are conducted by Pratt & Whitney,” Boeing said in a statement Sunday.

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The engine maker said it was sending a team to work with investigators.

The emergency landing in Denver is the latest trouble for Boeing, which saw its 737 Max planes grounded for more than a year after two deadly crashes in 2019. The planes began returning to the skies late last year — a huge boost for the company, which lost billions of dollars during the Max grounding because it has been unable to deliver new planes to customers.

Video footage posted on Twitter of Saturday’s emergency over Denver showed the United plane’s engine fully engulfed in flames as the plane was in flight. Freeze frames from a different video taken by a passenger sitting slightly in front of the engine appeared to show a broken fan blade in the engine.

The National Transportation Safety Board said two of the engine’s fan blades were fractured and the remainder of the fan blades “exhibited damage.” But the agency cautioned that it was too early to draw conclusions about what happened.

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United says it will work closely with the FAA and the NTSB “to determine any additional steps that are needed to ensure these aircraft meet our rigorous safety standards and can return to service.”

Boeing expects a turbulent ride ahead for the world’s jetliner market, with sales shrinking sharply this decade before eventually rebounding in the 2030s.

The NTSB said the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder were transported to its lab in Washington for the data to be analyzed. NTSB investigations can take more than a year, although in major cases the agency generally releases some investigative material midway through the process.

Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism said an engine in the PW4000 family suffered trouble on a Japan Airlines 777 flying to Tokyo from Naha on Dec. 4. The airline has said the plane had engine trouble after takeoff and returned to Naha. An inspection showed damage to the engine case and missing fan blades, according to the airline. Stricter inspections were ordered in response.

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Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways will stop operating a combined 32 planes with that engine, Nikkei reported.


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