FAA Wants PW4000 Boeing 777 Engines Strengthened After Failure

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said that it wants to see parts of the PW4000 engine strengthened before flying again. Following an incident on a United flight in February, all Boeing 777s flying with the Pratt & Whitney engines have been grounded for inspections. The FAA’s request likely means that it will be a while before these jets return to the skies.

United Boeing 777
United, and several other carriers’, 777s with PW400s are currently on the ground due to the incident. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Strengthen

According to Reuters, Administrator Steve Dickson has told a US House panel that the FAA will require manufacturers to strengthen the cowling (engine covers) on the PW4000 engine. This will mean that Boeing and Pratt & Whitney will have to work on redesigning parts of the engine and structure to prevent incidents similar to the one in February.

Going into the specifics of the changes, Administrator Dickson told the committee said that he wants to ensure that “the structure around the engine, the cowling and the inlet area, does not damage the aircraft structure.

Pratt & Whitney PW4000
The FAA wants to see a redesign of the outer parts of the PW4000 before recertifying the jets. Photo: RAF-YYC via Wikimedia Commons

However, this request likely won’t come as a surprise to Boeing. In February, it became public that the American manufacturer possibly knew about issues with the PW4000 cowling months in advance. Boeing was already working on a redesign of the engine after similar incidents occurred on another United 777 in 2018 and JAL 777 last December.

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Time to go

These design changes likely mean that many P&W 777s will be on the ground for a few more months at least. Administrator Steve Dickson did not give a timeline for a new airworthiness directive and said it depends on the completion of the design changes and FAA’s approval of the same.

United Airlines is currently the largest operator of the PW4000s. The carrier operates 52 jets that are impacted by the issues, which are parked across the US (and abroad) currently. Japanese carriers ANA and JAL also fly the P&W engined 777s, along with Korean Air and Asiana in South Korea.

JAL 777 Getty
Pratt & Whitney engines were only used to power the first generation of 777s, leaving relatively few in service. Photo: Getty Images

However, not all airlines are waiting around for time-consuming and costly design changes to their aging 777s. Japan Airlines opted to retire its entire fleet of PW4000-powered 777-200s last month, ahead of schedule due to the grounding. Routes flown by these jets will be taken up by the Airbus A350 instead.

Considering both Asiana and Korean Air (including Jin Air) have similarly sized fleets, these 777s could be up for retirement earlier than planned. ANA also currently operates 14 777-200s, making it a target for retirement, especially if the grounding drags on.

Boeing woes

For Boeing, the news is unlikely to prove helpful. The Chicago-based giant is dealing with crises in all three of its most popular aircraft families: the 737 MAX, 777, and 787. The coming months will force the manufacturer to find fixes if hopes to dig itself out of losses soon.

What do you think about the FAA’s decision to require strengthened cowlings? Let us know in the comments!

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