United Airlines has announced it will return its 52 Boeing 777-200 aircraft with Pratt and Whitney PW4000 engines to service, after the planes were grounded following an uncontained and “catastrophic” engine failure earlier this year.
United chief operations officer Jon Roitman announced the airline’s intentions in an earnings call with investors on Tuesday, and said, “We look forward to getting that aircraft back to safe operations in the future.”
On Saturday, 20 February, a United Boeing 777-200, registration N772UA, was performing flight UA328 to Honolulu when it suffered what was later described by the NTSB as a “catastrophic” engine failure shortly after take-off from Denver.
The 26-year-old aircraft had 231 passengers and 10 crew on board when the right PW4000 series engine failed and caught alight at around 13,000 feet, and rained debris over homes and yards in Broomfield, Colorado, as passengers and witnesses looked on.
Following the incident, the US Federal Aviation Administration ordered immediate inspections of all fan blades in Boeing 777s with the same PW4000 series engines.
In order for the fan blades to be inspected, Pratt & Whitney partner company Raytheon confirmed that all blades would need to be sent to the company’s factory in Connecticut.
There are around 128 planes in the world that were affected by the FAA’s directive, with less than 10 per cent of the global fleet of Boeing 777s utilising the Pratt & Whitney PW4000-112 engine.
Currently, only United Airlines, Japan Airlines, ANA, Korean Air Lines, Asiana Airlines and Jin Air carry the affected 777s in their fleet.
Analysts predicted earlier that airlines based in Asia may opt to retire the affected 777s from their fleet, rather than spend the time and resources on removing the blades and sending them to the US for inspection.
Japan Airlines did just that, when it announced earlier this month that it will retire all 13 of its affected Boeing 777s, a year earlier than initially intended.
The airline has confirmed it will fast-track the jets’ retirement, and instead opt to use its newer Airbus A350s on routes previously served by the 777s.
“JAL has decided to accelerate the retirement of all P&W equipped Boeing 777 by March 2021, which (was) originally planned by March 2022,” the Japanese airline said.
While United has said it is committed to the return of said Boeing 777s, it did not give a timeline for when this may occur.
Roitman said that the airline has had “really productive collaboration with Pratt Boeing and the FAA” over the investigation into the engine failure and fan blade testing.