United Airlines to unground Boeing 777-200s after year-long hiatus

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United Airlines revealed when it expects to return to service its Boeing 777 aircraft powered with Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines. 

Speaking to the media on May 17, 2022, the chief commercial officer (CCO) of United Airlines Andrew Nocella said that the airline plans to return its grounded Boeing 777 jets to service in the following week as the Federal Aviation Administration gave all necessary approvals for the move.   

“The FAA issued the final paperwork on our Pratt Whitney powered 777s,” the COO confirmed. “We expect to start flying the aircraft ad hoc probably within the next week.”  

United Airlines temporarily removed 24 of its Boeing 777-200 airliners with certain Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines from service in late February 2021. The decision was taken after the incident that affected flight UAL328 on February 20, 2021.  

At the time, the United Boeing 777-200 jet registered N772UA, which was flying from Denver, United States, to Honolulu, Hawaii, United States, suffered an uncontained engine failure, scattering engine parts over several neighborhoods around Denver. 

Following the incident, the plane manufacturer Boeing requested the grounding of 128 aircraft around the world pending a safety inspection.  

Reacting to the situation, the FAA issued an emergency airworthiness directive (AD) requiring all owners and operators of the Pratt & Whitney PW4000-112 engines powering Boeing 777s to immediately perform a thermal acoustic image inspection before any further flight. 

United had planned to return the affected 777s to passenger service by the summer of 2021. But on March 11, 2022, the FAA ordered additional corrective measures to be taken on PW4000 engines in three airworthiness directives. These included the structural reinforcement of the engine inlet to withstand fan blade failures, as well as repetitive ultrasonic and thermal acoustic image inspections for cracks on fan blades.   

The Chicago-based United Airlines is the only airline across the US that used to actively operate the Boeing 777-200 variant before the incident.  

Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA) both returned their PW4000-powered Boeing 777s in March 2022 after Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism lifted the suspension. 


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