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Boeing 777s grounded after Denver engine failure

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Arthur H. Rosenberg, Aviation Attorney & Pilot, joins Yahoo Finance's Kristin Myers and Alexis Keenan to break down the latest developments on Boeing.

Video Transcript

- Now a United flight experienced engine failure over the weekend when a part of its engine appeared to blow off and land in the yards of people in Colorado, at least debris. You can see that there on the screen. We have Yahoo Finance's Alexis Keenan here along with Arthur Rosenberg, aviation attorney and pilot. Mr Rosenberg had represented victims and relatives who died in the 737 Max Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes. So Alexis, I want to start with you. What is the next step here for Boeing and even for United and some of the other airlines?

ALEXIS KEENAN: Sure Kristin. So first off yesterday, the FAA ordered United Airlines to immediately start inspecting its planes that are configured with this particular Pratt and Whitney 4,000 series engines. So globally there are 128 of those aircraft 69 are in service and 59 are in storage. United Airlines went ahead and voluntarily grounded its 24 aircraft that are configured that way. And today, the Guardian is reporting that the UK has also barred that aircraft from its airspace.

You also have the NTSB that's confirmed that two fractured fan blades-- blades were found among the debris that you mentioned that fell on the ground around the Denver Airport. And they will be launching of course an investigation. Boeing, for its part, came out yesterday and recommended that all of these 777 aircraft be-- that are outfitted this way, that they remain on the ground. Those recommendations though were following recommendations and orders from Japan Civil Aviation Bureau along with the FAA. We then have Pratt and Whitney. They have issued a statement saying that they've dispatched a team to work with investigators and are coordinating with operators, but they didn't go so far as to say those planes should be grounded. Now Boeing said while the NTSB investigation is ongoing, it's recommending these suspended operations until the FAA identifies the appropriate inspection protocol.

This engine model has experienced previous failures. There was one in December of 2020 not too long ago, Japan Airlines flight. Another in February 20 '18, United Airlines, that one was determined by the NTSB to be to get the blame of Pratt and Whitney training technicians, that the training was faulty there and they didn't expect those engines as they should. Christine.

- Now Arthur I want to turn to you. I'm wondering if this news at all, kind of, really opens up the window even more or provide opportunities for folks who are looking to sue Boeing especially after some of those crashes. You're representing some of the victims of those crashes, perhaps allegations that Boeing frankly isn't doing a very good job when it comes to building some of their planes.

ARTHUR H ROSENBERG: Well first of all, you need to have injury in order to sue. So in this case, I believe there probably was enough of a history and a background of problems with these Pratt and Whitney engines on this particular model of Boeing 777-200 to put them on notice that something had to change. They had to change their maintenance practices. They had to change their inspection practices. They had to do something to ensure the safety of these airplanes and the safety of the Boeing 777 that these passengers were on.

But to your point, if you want to sue you basically need two sides of the coin. You need injury. You need fault, and you need injury. Fault, we have. Injury, maybe we have. Fright, emotional suffering, things like that could be actionable. But the most important thing here is thank God that this plane landed safely and, at least as reported, there were no injuries on board and no one got hit with falling debris on the ground.

ALEXIS KEENAN: Arthur, it's Alexis here. What is the larger message that consumers, investors should be taking away from these repeated engine failures involving this very same type of aircraft and engine?

ARTHUR H ROSENBERG: OK, so first I want to delineate, distinguish between the plane and the engine. These engines, yes, do have a history of in-flight failure of the fan blades. Now, if you have a picture-- I actually have a picture here. I'm going to try to do this without my glasses on, but these are the fan blades in the very front of the engine. So if you're boarding the plane, if you're looking at a window, and you have to have a seat in front of the engine, you can see these huge propeller like things. Those are called the fans. These are high bypass 90,000 pound thrust engines, and these are the pieces that have experienced failure. Behind the engine, we could talk about it but it's not involved in the accident sequence.

So what they found on this United Airlines flight 328 was that there were fractures right here at the bottom where this miniature propeller attaches to the engine. Those who called fatigue fractures. They're invisible to the naked eye. You can't see them. They're on the inside of the blade, for the most part. There are several inspection techniques that should be used to detect these fractures. Even if you do it right, it's not foolproof. They do have a life.

My-- my opinion here is that there's something about the manufacturing process of Pratt and Whitney with these engines. They're made out of titanium, stronger than aluminum, not as strong as steel. They're very lightweight, over tens of thousands of hours of operation. They experience all kinds of loads, torsional loads, shear loads, bending loads. If you go where they're--

ALEXIS KEENAN: Arthur. Can I interrupt you and just quickly, we have a little bit of time here. I wanted to ask you also why didn't the FAA with all of these potential problems that-- known problems that you're talking about, why didn't they just ground the plane as a mandate instead of ordering stepped up inspections?

ARTHUR H ROSENBERG: Well, I think you have to establish a pattern of failure, which we clearly have here. Should they have done it three years ago after there was a United Airlines flight, same kind of flight LA to Honolulu? I would say probably. After the Japan Airlines incident that was reported? Absolutely. Should they have done it before waiting for this particular flight? Absolutely. These days given what happened with [? emax ?] and the approvals, Federal Aviation Administration has to be doing it better than they've ever done before. And I don't think they did in this case.

- All right, Yahoo Finance's Alexis Keenan, Arthur Rosenberg aviation attorney and pilot. Thank you both for this discussion. I myself kind of want to avoid flying now after that conversation.