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Pratt & Whitney Engines Must Be Inspected Before Flights Resume, F.A.A. Says

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The Federal Aviation Administration announced late Tuesday that Pratt & Whitney engines on Boeing 777 aircraft must be inspected before the jets can fly again in the United States.

On Saturday, one of the engines caught fire during a United Airlines flight and covered Colorado in debris, the latest episode of its kind to involve this engine family in recent years.

United is the only American airline to operate Boeing 777s equipped with the PW4000 series of engines, and the airline announced on Sunday that it has grounded those 24 aircraft in its active fleet while waiting for the FAA leadership. In December, a similar Pratt & Whitney engine failed aboard a Japan Airlines 777.

United said it would ensure those two dozen planes and 28 more in the warehouse comply with FAA regulation. Pratt & Whitney said in a statement that the safe operation of the fleet is “a top priority”.

Before the jets can fly again, the large titanium hollow fan blades on the front of each engine must be removed and shipped to a Pratt & Whitney facility for a “thermoacoustic image” inspection under this technique, according to the FAA, a fan blade bombarded with high frequency vibrations, which increases its temperature. A thermal image of the blade is then recorded and analyzed for any unusual readings that could indicate a possible crack.

In 2018, a United flight on the same aircraft and engine combination suffered a similar failure, prompting the FAA to order engine inspections every 6,500 flights. In its statement on Tuesday, the agency said it may adjust this inspection frequency.

Also on Saturday, a Boeing 747 equipped with a relative of this engine suffered a similar fate and lost parts in the Netherlands. The European Aviation Authority has said it does not believe the episode is related to the other errors. None of the four engine failures resulted in death. Two people are said to have suffered minor injuries in the Netherlands.

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Robert Dunfee