U.S. lawmakers say Boeing 737 MAX 8 grounded for at least ‘weeks’

FILE PHOTO: Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are parked at a Boeing production facility in Renton, Washington, U.S., March 11, 2019. REUTERS/David Ryder

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers said after a briefing with the acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday that Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9 planes will remain grounded for “weeks” at a minimum until a software upgrade could be tested and installed in all of the planes.

FAA Administrator Dan Elwell told reporters on Wednesday the software update will be ready within a couple of months after regulators around the world grounded the plane following a second fatal crash in the 737 MAX 8 since October.

The FAA said Monday it planned to require the upgrade it termed “design changes” by April. An FAA spokesman confirmed Thursday that the FAA will not unground the airplanes until the software patch is approved and installed.

Boeing and the FAA did not immediately comment. Representative Rick Larsen said after the briefing the software upgrade would take a few weeks to complete and installing on all aircraft would take “at least through April.” He said additional training would also have to take place.

Representative Peter DeFazio, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the software upgrade will result in the airplanes behaving more like older versions of the 737.

The upgrade will revise an automated protection system called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS, which come under scrutiny in October’s fatal Lion Air crash in Indonesia.

“After the pilot has tried to correct, the MCAS is going to not keep repeating itself, which is what it does now. It keeps triggering automatically and the pilot has to do it again,” DeFazio said unless it is manually disengaged by the pilot. “It will essentially shut itself off.”

The upgrade will address if there is a disagreement between sensors, DeFazio said.

Lawmakers noted that there have been no confirmed incidents in 50,000 North America flights with the 737 MAX 8 and questioned if training by carriers abroad was an issue.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Nick Zieminski)

FAA to order inspections of jet engines after Southwest blast

U.S. NTSB investigators are on scene examining damage to the engine of the Southwest Airlines plane in this image released from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 17, 2018. NTSB/Handout via REUTERS

By Alwyn Scott and Alana Wise

(Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said it will order inspection of about 220 aircraft engines as investigators have found that a broken fan blade touched off an engine explosion this week on a Southwest flight, killing a passenger.

The regulator said late on Wednesday it plans to finalize the air-worthiness directive within the next two weeks. The order, which it initially proposed in August following an incident in 2016, will require ultrasonic inspection within the next six months of the fan blades on all CFM56-7B engines that have accrued a certain number of takeoffs.

Airlines said that because fan blades may have been repaired and moved to other engines, the order would affect far more than 220 of the CFM56-7Bs, which are made by a partnership of France’s Safran <SAF.PA> and General Electric <GE.N>.

The CFM56 engine on Southwest <LUV.N> flight 1380 blew apart over Pennsylvania on Tuesday, about 20 minutes after the Dallas-bound flight left New York’s LaGuardia Airport with 149 people on board. The explosion sent shrapnel ripping into the fuselage of the Boeing 737-700 plane and shattered a window.

Bank executive Jennifer Riordan, 43, was killed when she was partially pulled through a gaping hole next to her seat as the cabin suffered rapid decompression. Fellow passengers were able to pull her back inside but she died of her injuries.

On Wednesday, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said the incident began when one of the engine’s 24 fan blades snapped off from its hub. Investigators found that the blade had suffered metal fatigue at the point of the break.

Sumwalt said he could not yet say if the incident, the first deadly airline accident in the United States since 2009, pointed to a fleet-wide problem in the Boeing 737-700.

Southwest crews were inspecting similar engines the airline had in service, focusing on the 400 to 600 oldest of the CFM56 engines, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. It was the second time this kind of engine had failed on a Southwest jet in the past two years, prompting airlines around the world to step up inspections.

A NTSB inspection crew was also combing over the Boeing <BA.N> 737-700 for signs of what caused the engine to explode.

Sumwalt said the fan blade, after suffering metal fatigue where it attached to the engine hub, has a second fracture about halfway along its length. Pieces of the plane were found in rural Pennsylvania by investigators who tracked them on radar. The metal fatigue would not have been observable by looking at the engine from the outside, Sumwalt said.

Passengers described scenes of panic as a piece of shrapnel from the engine shattered a plane window, almost sucking Riordan out.

Riordan was a Wells Fargo <WFC.N> banking executive and well-known community volunteer from Albuquerque, New Mexico, the company said.

Videos posted on social media showed passengers grabbing for oxygen masks and screaming as the plane, piloted by Tammie Jo Shults, a former U.S. Navy fighter pilot, prepared for the descent into Philadelphia.

The airline expected to wrap up its inspection of the engines it was targeting in about 30 days.

The GE-Safran partnership that built the engine said it was sending about 40 technicians to help with Southwest’s inspections.

Pieces of the engine including its cowling – which covers its inner workings – were found about 60 miles (100 km) from Philadelphia airport, Sumwalt said. The investigation could take 12 to 15 months to complete.

In August 2016, a Southwest flight made a safe emergency landing in Pensacola, Florida, after a fan blade separated from the same type of engine and debris ripped a hole above the left wing. That incident prompted the FAA to propose last year that similar fan blades undergo ultrasonic inspections and be replaced if they failed.

(editing by David Stamp)

United Passenger jet lands in Hawaii after engine covering rips apart

The plane with engine problems is seen on the tarmac in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S., February 13, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Peter Lemme/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Passengers aboard a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Honolulu had a scary trip over the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday, after the casing around one of the engines ripped apart, officials said.

The plane with engine problems is seen on the tarmac in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S., February 13, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Mariah Amerine/via REUTERS

The plane with engine problems is seen on the tarmac in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S., February 13, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Mariah Amerine/via REUTERS

United flight 1175, with more than 370 people on board including crew members, landed without incident at Honolulu International Airport, United Airlines Inc spokesman Charles Hobart said in an email.

Passengers brace during the plane landing in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S., February 13, 2018 in this still image taken from a social media video. Mariah Amerine/via REUTERS

Passengers brace during the plane landing in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S., February 13, 2018 in this still image taken from a social media video. Mariah Amerine/via REUTERS

“Scariest flight of my life,” Maria Falaschi, a marketing consultant from San Francisco, wrote on Twitter. She posted photos on the social media website of the aircraft’s engine with its covering, also known as the cowling, missing.

Hobart said he could not immediately say whether or not the engine on the Boeing 777 continued to function after the cowling came off.

The pilots of United flight 1175 declared an emergency due to a vibration in the right engine before the plane landed safely, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokesman Ian Gregor said in an email. The FAA will investigate the incident.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles)