US orders urgent engine fix on Boeing 787 Dreamliners

NEW YORK • US officials have ordered Boeing to fix engines on some of its 787 Dreamliner aircraft to avoid sudden failure in icy conditions, calling the problem an "urgent safety issue".

Last Friday's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) directive concerns a potential problem in General Electric's most advanced engines that affects 176 planes worldwide, following a January incident in which an engine on a 787 jet failed mid-flight, reported Agence France-Presse.

Although pilots on the Japan Airlines flight from Vancouver to Tokyo shut down the engine, the incident was not deemed serious because the plane's other engine, an older version of the same model, was not susceptible to the problem.

The 787 engine troubles do not appear to affect Singapore Airlines or its long-haul budget arm Scoot.

Both airlines told The Straits Times that the 787s they have ordered or operate are powered by Rolls-Royce engines, not General Electric ones.

The Dreamliner, Boeing's most sophisticated passenger plane, is constructed largely of advanced lightweight carbon-fibre-reinforced composite materials that reduce fuel use.

However, a series of problems plagued the aircraft during development and production, as well as since its first commercial flight in late 2011, according to Agence France-Presse.

The latest issue involves natural icing that occurs at lower altitudes in winter weather, Boeing spokesman Doug Adler said.

The FAA said it was ordering modifications that will prevent ice from accumulating on fan blades in GE's GEnx engines and making them rub against the engine casing, which can cause "damage and a possible in-flight non-restartable power loss of one or both engines".

At least one of the engines on all affected 787 Dreamliners must be repaired or replaced within five months.

The FAA directive concerns only the 43 planes operated by US-based airlines. However, other countries, which typically follow the FAA's regulations, are expected to comply.

GE first recommended the repairs earlier this month after it investigated the problem jointly with Boeing and "worked with the FAA on a plan to fully resolve it", Mr Adler said.

More than 40 Dreamliner engines have been fixed so far, he added.

The repairs, which involve grinding down engine casings, can be done without removing the engines from the planes.

Mr Adler said that Boeing has already complied with another of the FAA directive's orders - for pilots to be alerted to new operating procedures for coping with possible icing problems.

• Additional reporting by Kok Xing Hui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2016, with the headline 'US orders urgent engine fix on Boeing 787 Dreamliners'. Print Edition | Subscribe