Federal aviation officials ordered “stepped-up” inspections of some Boeing 777 aircraft Sunday after an engine on a United Airlines flight from Denver caught fire and fell apart, scattering debris in a Colorado neighborhood, before the plane landed safely.
The inspections would apply to 777s equipped with Pratt & Whitney model PW4000 engines, said Steve Dickson, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Dickson said he made the decision — which is likely to remove some aircraft from service — after having consulted with a team of aviation safety experts.
“Based on the initial information, we concluded that the inspection interval should be stepped up for the hollow fan blades that are unique to this model of engine, used solely on Boeing 777 airplanes,” he said.
United said it was immediately grounding its fleet of 24 Boeing aircraft equipped with the Pratt & Whitney engines. The airline said that it was working with federal investigators and regulators and that it expected a small number of customers to be inconvenienced during the swap.
Federal officials said that only the U.S., South Korea and Japan use planes with the PW4000 engine and that United is the only American airline that uses them.
Reuters, citing Japan’s Aeronautical Service Information Center, said Japan also halted aircraft from flying with Pratt & Whitney engines.
Neither Boeing nor Pratt & Whitney immediately responded to requests for comment.
Video from a passenger on United Flight 328 — which was carrying 231 people to Honolulu on Saturday — showed one of the plane’s flaming engines falling apart in the sky. A pilot reported a “mayday” and told air traffic control that the plane had had an “engine failure,” authorities said.
Large pieces of metal fell into a neighborhood in Broomfield, Colorado; there were no reports of injuries. The pilot turned the plane around and landed safely at Denver International Airport.