FAA Rejects Boeing 777 Engine-Ice Warnings
Regulator to Allow Jetliners to Keep Flying Through Early 2011 With Suspect Parts That Have Caused Rare Incidents
By ANDY PASZTOR
Wall St Journal
Rejecting safety warnings from crash investigators and pilots, federal aviation regulators have decided to allow more than 130 Boeing Co. 777 jetliners to continue flying long-distance international trips through early 2011 with suspect parts that have caused engines in extremely rare instances to ice up and basically shut down in midair.
The Federal Aviation Administration's move, announced last week, caps months of debate in the international aviation community about the potential hazards of ice plugging up certain internal piping parts and restricting fuel flow to engines built by Rolls-Royce PLC, particularly during extended, high-altitude flights crossing polar regions. Citing the possibility of engine shutdowns or emergency descents, critics wanted at least some of the suspect parts replaced by the end of this year, and in any event no later than mid-2010.
One reason for the later regulatory deadline is the limited availability of replacement parts, according to industry officials. The FAA rejected recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board to order affected Boeing 777 operators to swiftly replace parts on at least one of the two engines on each aircraft. But maintenance officials at AMR Corp.'s American Airlines unit, a major Boeing 777 operator, recently said they still are pushing to complete such a partial replacement effort as quickly as possible.
Boeing officials have said the fixes so far are adequate to assure safety, but the company continues to study the technical issues and consult with regulators to determine future steps.
In releasing the long-awaited safety directive, the FAA determined that interim operational safeguards it previously imposed provide an adequate safety margin to put off permanent hardware fixes until January 2011.
Ice-induced shutdowns covered by the latest FAA regulation are extremely rare, with only three events recorded over millions of flights. But when the problem suddenly crops up—as it did on a British Airways PLC jet that crashed short of a runway while approaching London's Heathrow Airport in January 2008—the result can be catastrophic. The plane was substantially damaged, and 13 people aboard sustained serious or minor injuries. A Delta Air Lines Inc. jet suffered a brief, single-engine thrust reduction in November 2008 while cruising at 39,000 feet from Shanghai to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
The FAA's action came just a few days after the agency ordered stepped-up inspections of another type of widely-used Rolls-Royce engine. The agency said it acted "to prevent internal oil fires" that can cause certain parts of the engines to break off, perhaps shoot outside their protective covering at high speed and end up damaging the airplane.
Less than nine months ago, the safety board was concerned enough about the phenomenon of ice buildup inside Rolls-Royce engines to issue urgent recommendations for redesign of the suspect parts. As an interim step, the FAA has mandated that pilots take certain precautionary moves to prevent ice from building up inside sections of the engine-fuel tubing and restricting fuel flow to the engines..
In urging more-aggressive action to deal with the complex problem, the safety board told the FAA that the extended phase-in of the new part wasn't consistent with the risk stemming from the original design.
Rolls-Royce has indicated it is cooperating with Boeing and European jet maker Airbus, which also uses its engines, to analyze the icing phenomenon.
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page B3
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