Boeing urges airlines to suspend use of some 777s after mid-flight engine failure

Boeing has recommended temporarily stopping flights of planes with a similar engine to one that suffered a catastrophic failure mid-flight over the weekend.

A United Airlines bound for Hawaii was forced into an emergency landing on Saturday as its right engine was seen engulfed in flames and debris plunged towards the ground.

All 231 passengers and 10 crew onboard, as well as those on the ground, were unhurt.

The plane sent debris falling to the ground

The plane’s engine, a Pratt & Whitney PW4000, is solely used on Boeing 777s.

Boeing has now said operations of all 777s powered by Pratt & Whitney engines should be suspended until the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) finds an appropriate protocol for inspections.

Currently, there are 69 such planes in service and 59 in storage.

The development represents a fresh blow to Boeing as its 737 MAX returns to the skies nearly two years after the fleet was grounded following two deadly crashes.

In the case of the 777, the FAA had earlier ordered inspections of the hollow fan blades unique to the engine model be “stepped up”.

At least three other incidents involving Pratt & Whitney engines have been logged in recent memory.

• One of four engines on a Boeing 747-412 cargo plane failed within minutes of its departure from Maastricht in the Netherlands on Saturday

• Three months ago, a flight between Okinawa and Tokyo was forced to turn back after an engine explosion six minutes after take-off

• Another Pratt & Whitney 4000 series engine failed when a blade broke off on a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Hawaii in 2018

Large pieces of debris were found in Denver. Pics: Broomfield Police

In each of the incidents, no one was hurt.

Two of the engine’s fan blades from the Hawaii flight were fractured and the rest of them “exhibited damage”, according to a separate statement from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

However, it added it was too early to draw conclusions about how the incident happened.

United Airlines, the only US airline to use the engine model in its fleet, is temporarily removing affected planes from service.

It said 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”.

Japan has gone a step further and decided to stop operating a total of 32 planes with that engine, according to Nikkei Asia.

The country’s ministry of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism also ordered the planes out of service.

Boeing’s 737 MAX fleet was grounded in March 2019 following two fatal crashes in which 346 people were killed.

In November, the US aviation regulator cleared the way for its return to US skies, followed a week later by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the UK’s CAA.