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UPDATE 10-Boeing engine blowouts investigated as older 777s are suspended

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Jamie Freed and David Shepardson and Laurence Frost
·4 min read
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* Scrutiny follows separate Pratt & Whitney failures

* Older PW4000 engine family in focus

* U.S. regulator orders extra inspections(Adds EASA comments on incidents not being related)

By Jamie Freed, David Shepardson and Laurence Frost

Feb 22 (Reuters) - Showers of jet engine parts overresidential areas on both sides of the Atlantic have caughtregulators' attention and prompted the suspension of some olderBoeing Co planes from service.

Saturday's incidents involving a United Airlines 777 inDenver and a Longtail Aviation 747 freighter in the Netherlandsput engine maker Pratt & Whitney in the spotlight, though thereis no evidence they are related.

Pratt & Whitney, which is owned by Raytheon TechnologiesCorp, said it was coordinating with regulators to reviewinspection protocols. It is expected to increase inspectionsordered after previous incidents.

After the Colorado engine failure, when United Flight 328dropped debris on a northern Denver suburb before landingsafely, Boeing recommended the suspension of 777s with the samevariant of PW4000 turbine. Japan, meanwhile, imposed amandatory suspension.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) weighed inon Monday, requesting more information on the Pratt engines inlight of both events. A woman sustained minor injuries in theDutch incident, which scattered turbine blades on the town ofMeerssen. One was found embedded in a car roof.

After receiving more information, EASA said the incidentswere unrelated. "Nothing in the failure and root analysis showany similarity (between the two incidents) at this stage," theregulator said.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it wouldsoon issue an emergency airworthiness directive based on theUnited event.

Both incidents involve the same type of PW4000 engine thatequips a relatively small number of older planes, some groundedby the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting the likely repercussions.

They nonetheless bring a new headache for Boeing as itrecovers from the much more serious 737-MAX crisis, whichresulted in the grounding of its flagship narrowbody jet aftertwo deadly crashes.

"This is certainly an unwelcome situation for both Boeingand Pratt, but from time to time issues will pop up withaircraft and engines," said Greg Waldron, a managing editor atindustry publication Flight Global.

"The PW4000-powered 777-200 is slowly fading from service,"he said, adding that the pandemic-driven slump means thatairlines forced to suspend it "should be able to fill anynetwork gaps" with 787s or other 777s equipped with GeneralElectric Co engines.

Analysts at broker Cowen predicted limited impact onBoeing's share price, which fell about 2.1% on Monday.


The 777-200s and 777-300s affected are older, lessfuel-efficient models still flown by five airlines: United,Japan Airlines, ANA Holdings Inc, AsianaAirlines Inc and Korean Air. Most are inthe process of being phased out.

Boeing said 69 of the 777s operating globally with PW4000shad been in recent service, with another 59 stored. Pratt &Whitney engines power less than 10% of the delivered 777 fleetof more than 1,600 planes.

United suspended 24 of its 777s, pre-empting Boeing'sadvice, after the Saturday blowout that dropped the rightengine's protective outer casing near homes.

A large majority of 777s in service today are powered byengines made by General Electric, the sole supplier on recentmodels.

In the Dutch case, the Longtail pilot was informed of anengine fire by air traffic control after taking off fromMaastricht, bound for New York, and diverted to Liege, Belgium.

The Dutch Safety Board on Monday said it was investigatingthe incident.

Examination of the 26-year-old United jet showed damage wasmostly confined to the right engine, the U.S. NationalTransportation Safety Board (NTSB) said. Its inlet and casingcame off and two fan blades were fractured, with others showingdamage.

The FAA said early findings suggested that the "inspectioninterval should be stepped up for the hollow fan blades that areunique to this model of engine, used solely on Boeing 777airplanes".

The cause of the engine fire in the Netherlands incidentremained unclear.

In-flight PW4000 engine failures have previously beenexamined by authorities.

Another United 777 of the same vintage suffered an enginefailure in February 2018, when a cowling fell off about 30minutes before the plane landed safely. A full-length fan bladefracture was behind the incident, the NTSB determined.

After a malfunction forced a Tokyo-bound JAL 777 to returnabruptly to Naha airport in December, Japan's Transport SafetyBoard reported it found two damaged fan blades, one with a metalfatigue crack. Its investigation is ongoing.

JAL, which operates 13 of the planes, said they werescheduled for retirement by March 2022.

The smaller PW4000 engines on some Boeing 747s and 767s, aswell as some Airbus A330s, do not feature the hollowtitanium fan blade suspected of being involved in the United 777incident.

(Reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney, David Shepardson inWashington and Laurence Frost in ParisAdditional reporting by Eimi Yamamitsu and Maki Shiraki inTokyo, Joyce Lee in Seoul, Tim Hepher in Paris and AnthonyDeutsch in AmsterdamEditing by David Goodman and Matthew Lewis)