Boeing suspended operations for more than 100 of its 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 suspensions apply to the model airplane used in Saturday’s flight to Hawaii, the 777 powered by Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines, the company said in a statement.
Sixty-nine of the aircraft were in use, Boeing said. Fifty-nine more were in storage. The company said the suspensions would remain in effect until the Federal Aviation Administration identified an “appropriate inspection protocol” for the aircraft.
The department administrator, Steve Dickson, said earlier that he ordered “stepped-up” inspections of the aircraft after consulting 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 while it switched the aircraft.
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.
In its statement, Boeing said it supported the moves by aviation authorities in the United States and Japan.
Pratt & Whitney did 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.
The incident is the latest black eye for Boeing as it attempts to regain public confidence following two fatal crashes involving its 737 Max jets. The Max was grounded worldwide in March 2019 after a Lion Air crash in October 2018 in Indonesia killed 189 people and was followed five months later by an Ethiopian Airlines crash that caused the death of all 157 people aboard.
After the disaster, Boeing’s CEO was ousted and several executives left the company, which agreed to pay $2.5 billion to settle a Justice Department investigation and admit that employees misled regulators about the safety of the Max.
The recertified Boeing 737 Max completed its first U.S. commercial flight in December, almost two years after the grounding.
Boeing still faces lawsuits by the families of passengers who died in the crashes.