An engine failure on a United Airlines flight from Colorado to Hawaii that rained aircraft parts over suburbs of Denver on Saturday put the Boeing 777, aircraft engine types and fan blades under the projectors.
The plane returned to Denver safely and no injuries were reported among the 231 passengers and 10 crew members or residents of Colorado, but footage of the incident and passenger reports rocked travelers and left them with countless questions about one of the go-to wide-body jets for flights in Europe and Hawaii.
Video taken from inside the plane and posted on social media shows the right engine on fire and part of the engine cover is missing. The coin landed in a yard in Broomfield, Colorado.
“The plane started to shake violently, and we lost altitude, and we started to descend,” said David Delucia, who was sitting directly across the aisle from the side with the engine. down, to the Associated Press. “At first I thought we were done. I thought we were going to fall. “
United only US airline with Boeing 777s powered by one engine inoperative on Saturday
The Federal Aviation Administration said there were 128 older Boeing 777s fitted with Pratt & Whitney 4000 engines.
United is the only US carrier to own planes with affected engines. The airline had 24 in service and 28 in stock during the pandemic before voluntarily immobilizing them on Sunday evening. United passengers will be accommodated on other flights.
The grounding is a step further than the FAA directive to step up inspections on Boeing 777s with Pratt & Whitney engines, especially the fan blades.
Other airlines operating 777s with Pratt & Whitney engines are in Japan and South Korea, the FAA said. They include Japan Airlines, ANA, and Korean Airlines. The Japanese Civil Aviation Bureau knocked them down.
Yes, you could still be booked on a Boeing 777
United owns 44 other Boeing 777s, all powered by GE engines, that are not affected by United’s 777 grounding or the FAA directive. The airline will use one of those planes, for example, to fly between San Francisco and Taipei, Taiwan, in March instead of one of its 777s on the ground, according to United spokesman Charlie Hobart.
American Airlines has 67 Boeing 777s in its fleet. They are powered by Rolls-Royce and GE engines, which are also not affected by the FAA directive. The planes were used for international flights before the pandemic and are now frequently used for flights within the United States, spokeswoman Sarah Jantz said.
Delta Air Lines withdrew its 18 Boeing 777s last year, ahead of schedule due to the drop in international travel due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and health concerns. The Delta 777’s last flight was a New York-Los Angeles flight in October. The airline, which began flying the jet between Atlanta and London in 1999, called it the end of an era and hailed the jet as a “workhorse.” Delta made nearly 134,000 flights on the plane.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian said retiring such an “iconic” fleet like the 777 was no easy decision, given its role in the airline’s international growth.
“I’ve flown in this plane a lot and love the customer experience it has provided over the years,” he said in a statement ahead of the final flight last fall.
Aviation safety expert: uncontained engine failures are rare but potentially catastrophic
United flight 328 from Denver to Honolulu experienced what is known as an uncontained engine failure.
This means that the parts have come out of the engine despite protective covers and other safety measures.
Uncontrolled failures are more dramatic and tend to be more dangerous than other engine failures because of the potential damage that stray parts can inflict on the plane, according to Ed Coleman, chairman of the security science department at Embry Riddle. Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, and director of the school’s Robertson Safety Institute.
“When things come out of the engine you don’t know where they’re going to go,” he said. “Some people burst fuel tanks … or they set something on fire.”
In April 2018, an uncontained engine failure on a flight from the southwest killed a 43-year-old mother of two.
The National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the Southwest engine failure found that a crack in one engine fan blade had ruptured it and struck the fan cover at a critical point near some latches. The impact caused the lid to open and sent some parts into the fuselage. Part of it punctured a window, fatally injuring Jennifer Riordan, the passenger in the window seat.
Overall, the number of engine failures is “infinitely small,” Coleman said. “It’s an anomaly more than a routine thing.
“They are quite rare because of the inspection procedures,” Coleman said. “Engines have specific times when they are taken apart and examined.”
Coleman, a former Air Force pilot, said pilots are regularly trained to handle engine failures, uncontained and contained. He said the tone of United pilots on air traffic control tapes during the incident underscored this.
“Their voices don’t even go up an octave,” he says.
He has investigated military engine failures and experienced unconfined engine failure during his career and about a dozen other engine failures that required him to shut down the engine.
United had a similar engine failure on another Boeing 777 flight to Hawaii
Saturday’s incident was not United’s first uncontrolled failure on a Boeing 777 flight to Hawaii.
In February 2018, a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii, in an aircraft equipped with the same Pratt & Whitney engine, lost its engine cover after a fan blade separated during the aircraft’s descent towards Honolulu.
The flight made an emergency landing, but the 363 passengers and 10 crew members were not injured. The aircraft sustained minor damage.
New engine inspection procedures have been put in place to avoid duplication.
“When a fan blade breaks, it’s usually because there is some sort of missed crack,” Coleman said.
It’s early days, but the similarity between the two incidents will be worked out by the NTSB, he said.
“I guess they will take a very close look at these inspection procedures and determine what was missed and how it was missed,” he said.
The United Boeing 777 involved in the incident in 2018 is returned to service at United. Late Saturday, United used the plane to carry passengers departing from Flight 328 on a subsequent flight to Honolulu.