Boeing Reports Engine Flaw in GE-Powered Dreamliners, 747s

By Paul Riegler on 23 November 2013
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Boeing's 747-8 in Lufthansa livery

Boeing’s 747-8 in Lufthansa livery

Boeing issued a safety recommendation on Friday to operators of its 787 Dreamliners and the 747-8 Intercontinental aircraft that are powered by General Electric engines concerning engine malfunctions that can occur in certain situations.  The action has caused some airlines to not use those aircraft on certain routes.

The warning, which was given to airlines that include Japan Airlines, Lufthansa, and United Airlines, says that aircraft with the GE GEnx engine must not be flown within 50 nautical miles of a thunderstorm that may contain ice crystals.  The notice impacts a total of 17 passenger and cargo carriers.  The problem has caused a loss of thrust, internal engine damage, and engine shutdowns while in flight.

Following Boeing’s action, Japan Airlines said in a statement that Boeing had instructed the airline not to fly within 50 miles of specific types of weather.  The airline said it was replacing the Dreamliner on routes that link Tokyo with New Delhi and Singapore.  It also said it was dropping plans to use the Dreamliner between Tokyo and Sydney.

The restrictions put into place are likely to increase the amount of fuel consumed on a given flight in order for it to fly around the thunderstorms.  This is likely to detract from the Dreamliner’s highly-touted fuel efficiency.  JAL said that the Dreamliners would continue in service on its other routes where it is less likely to encounter the storms Boeing warned about.

Other airlines that received the notice from Boeing include Air India and Cathay Pacific. All Nippon Airways, the world’s largest Dreamliner operator, is not impacted by the announcement because its planes use engines from Rolls Royce that have not experienced a similar problem.

General Electric had previously issued an advisory notice to airlines operating the Dreamliner and 747-8 in which it said it was working on a solution.  GE said that a software fix is expected to be available in the first quarter of 2014.

Six icing-related incidents have been reported with the GE engines since April of this year.  Five involved a 747, one a 787.  GE said that all of these aircraft landed safely at their final destinations without further incident and that, in every case, the engines resumed normal thrust.

The FAA and foreign regulators are expected to adopt and mandate Boeing’s recommendation and require airlines to install the updated engine-control software when it becomes available. The FAA will have to test and approve Boeing’s changes before they can be distributed to its customers.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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