Saturday, February 20, 2021

Loss of Control on Ground: Cessna Ector 305A, N1832; accident occurred September 03, 2020 in Amboy, San Bernardino County, California

 







Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board

Additional Participating Entity: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Riverside, California 

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:


Location: Amboy, CA
Accident Number: WPR20CA296
Date & Time: 09/03/2020, 1530 PDT
Registration: N1832
Aircraft: Cessna Ector 305A
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Loss of control on ground
Injuries: 1 None
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal

The pilot of a tailwheel equipped airplane reported that, he was making a precautionary landing to an old gravel and sand runway. During the landing roll, he lost directional control and the airplane ground looped. Subsequently, the right main landing gear collapsed, and the right wing struck the ground. The airplane sustained substantial damage to the right wing and fuselage.

The pilot reported that there were no preaccident mechanical failures or malfunctions with the airplane that would have precluded normal operation.

Pilot Information

Certificate: Private
Age: 77, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine Land
Seat Occupied: Front
Other Aircraft Rating(s):None 
Restraint Used:
Instrument Rating(s):None 
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s):None 
Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification:BasicMed 
Last FAA Medical Exam: 04/01/2018
Occupational Pilot: No
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: 08/30/2019
Flight Time:  670.7 hours (Total, all aircraft), 103.9 hours (Total, this make and model)

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Cessna Ector
Registration: N1832
Model/Series: 305A
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 1964
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 2004
Landing Gear Type: Tailwheel
Seats: 4
Date/Type of Last Inspection: 11/11/2019, Annual
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 2270 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection:
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 9805.91 Hours
Engine Manufacturer: Continental Motors
ELT: C91 installed, not activated
Engine Model/Series: O-470-J
Registered Owner: On file
Rated Power: 225 hp
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KNXP, 2051 ft msl
Distance from Accident Site: 26 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 2256 UTC
Direction from Accident Site: 233°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Visibility:  10 Miles
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: Light and Variable /
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual:
Wind Direction: Variable
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual:
Altimeter Setting: 29.93 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 42°C / -1°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Santa Paula, CA (SZP)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Lake Havasu, AZ (HII)
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 1400 PDT
Type of Airspace: Class G

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 None
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 None
Latitude, Longitude: 34.559722, -115.746944 (est)

Swearingen SA227-AC Metro III, N362AE: Accident occurred September 04, 2020 at San Antonio International Airport (KSAT), Texas

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. 

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident. 

Additional Participating Entity: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; San Antonio, Texas

Ameriflight
UAS Transervices Inc

https://registry.faa.gov/N362AE


Location: San Antonio, TX
Accident Number: CEN20LA440
Date & Time: September 4, 2020, 20:02 Local 
Registration: N362AE
Aircraft: Swearingen SA227
Injuries: 1 None
Flight Conducted Under: Part 135: Air taxi & commuter - Non-scheduled

On September 4, 2020, about 2005 central daylight time, a Swearingen SA227-AC airplane, N362AE, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident at the San Antonio International Airport (SAT), San Antonio, Texas. The pilot was not injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135 cargo flight.

According to the pilot, the airplane yawed right while on final approach to runway 13L, but he was able to regain control of the airplane with a right rudder input and continued with the landing approach. The airplane’s wings remained level, the nose aligned with the runway heading, and on a normal glidepath to the runway until the airplane crossed over the runway threshold. Shortly after the pilot began reducing engine power for a landing, the airplane began to roll right wing down and that the roll became more pronounced as the landing flare continued. The pilot stated that he was unable to regain control of the airplane before it landed hard on the right main landing gear with the airplane banked about 20° right wing down. The airplane departed off the right side of the runway where the nose landing gear collapsed. The lower fuselage and forward pressure bulkhead were substantially damaged during the hard landing.

The extent of the airplane damage sustained during the hard landing was not reported to the National Transportation Safety Board until February 10, 2021. The airplane was retained for additional examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Swearingen 
Registration: N362AE
Model/Series: SA227 AC 
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operator: 
Operating Certificate(s) Held: Commuter air carrier (135)
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: VMC
Condition of Light: Dusk
Observation Facility, Elevation: SAT,809 ft msl
Observation Time: 20:11 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 0 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 26°C /21°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Few / 4400 ft AGL
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 7 knots / , 40°
Lowest Ceiling: Broken / 7000 ft AGL
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.1 inches Hg 
Type of Flight Plan Filed: IFR
Departure Point: Del Rio, TX (DRT) 
Destination: San Antonio, TX

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 None 
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 None 
Latitude, Longitude: 29.533958,-98.469057 (est)

Nose Over: Maule MX-7-180A Sportplane, N897DC; accident occurred September 07, 2020 in Brazoria, Texas










Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board

Additional Participating Entity: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Houston,Texas 

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board: 

Pullen Endeavors LLC

https://registry.faa.gov/N897DC

Location: Brazoria, Texas 
Accident Number: CEN20CA388
Date & Time: September 7, 2020, 09:30 Local 
Registration: N897DC
Aircraft: Maule MX7 
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Nose over/nose down
Injuries: 1 None
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal

Analysis

The pilot reported that he was attempting an off-airport landing in a tailwheel-equipped airplane to a location that he had not previously landed. He stated that just prior to touchdown he realized it was not a suitable landing area and he initiated a go-around. During the go around, the airplane touched down on soft ground and tall grass, which caused the airplane to sink into the ground and nose over. The right lift strut was substantially damaged.

The pilot reported no preimpact mechanical anomalies with the airplane that would have precluded normal operation.

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The pilot’s failure to maintain airplane control during a go-around from unsuitable terrain.

Findings

Personnel issues Decision making/judgment - Pilot
Personnel issues Aircraft control - Pilot
Environmental issues Rough terrain - Decision related to condition

Factual Information

History of Flight

Landing-aborted after touchdown Nose over/nose down (Defining event)

Pilot Information

Certificate: Private
Age: 62, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine land 
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used: Unknown
Instrument Rating(s): None 
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: Class 3 With waivers/limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: April 6, 2020
Occupational Pilot: No 
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: April 2, 2019
Flight Time: 287 hours (Total, all aircraft), 26 hours (Total, this make and model)

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Maule
Registration: N897DC
Model/Series: MX7 180A
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 1993
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal 
Serial Number: 20012C
Landing Gear Type: Tailwheel
Seats:
Date/Type of Last Inspection: August 1, 2020 Annual
Certified Max Gross Wt.:
Time Since Last Inspection: 6 Hrs 
Engines: Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time:
Engine Manufacturer: Lycoming
ELT: Installed, not activated
Engine Model/Series: O-360
Registered Owner:
Rated Power: 180 Horsepower
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual (VMC)
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: 
Distance from Accident Site:
Observation Time: 15:53 Local
Direction from Accident Site:
Lowest Cloud Condition: Scattered / 2300 ft AGL 
Visibility:  10 miles
Lowest Ceiling: None 
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 3 knots /
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: None / None
Wind Direction: 100° 
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual: N/A / N/A
Altimeter Setting: 29.95 inches Hg 
Temperature/Dew Point: 30°C / 25°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Houston, TX (LVJ)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Houston, TX (LVJ) 
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 07:30 Local
Type of Airspace: Class D

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 None 
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries:
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 None
Latitude, Longitude: 29.177499,-95.200279

Loss of Control on Ground: Piper PA-46-350P Malibu Mirage, N596ST; accident occurred September 15, 2020 at Centennial Airport (KAPA), Denver, Arapahoe County, Colorado

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Denver, Colorado 

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Englewood, Colorado
Accident Number: CEN20CA394
Date & Time: September 15, 2020, 14:20 Local 
Registration: N596ST
Aircraft: Piper PA46
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Loss of control on ground
Injuries: 2 None
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal

Analysis

The pilot reported that the straight in approach for landing was "bumpy" due to winds and terrain. About touchdown, a "severe wind event caused what felt like a potential upset" as the left wing lifted and there was an uncommanded downturn to the right. The pilot applied full power to bank left and climb, but the airplane did not climb. The left-wing tip scraped the runway, and the airplane was forced to the right. Before the pilot was able to regain control, the airplane impacted a taxiway sign and several runway lights. The airplane sustained substantial damage to the rear wing spar and wing root. The pilot reported that there were no mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airplane that would have precluded normal operation.

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The pilot's failure to maintain directional control during landing in gusting winds. 

Findings

Aircraft Directional control - Not attained/maintained
Personnel issues Aircraft control - Pilot
Environmental issues Gusts - Contributed to outcome
Environmental issues Sign/marker - Contributed to outcome
Environmental issues Runway/taxi/approach light - Contributed to outcome

Factual Information

History of Flight

Landing-flare/touchdown Loss of control on ground (Defining event)
Landing-flare/touchdown Attempted remediation/recovery
Landing-landing roll Collision with terr/obj (non-CFIT)

Pilot Information

Certificate: Airline transport; Commercial; Flight instructor
Age: 70, Female
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine land; Single-engine sea; Multi-engine land
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None 
Restraint Used: 3-point
Instrument Rating(s): Airplane
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): Airplane single-engine 
Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: Class 2 With waivers/limitations 
Last FAA Medical Exam: May 7, 2019
Occupational Pilot: No 
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: January 26, 2020
Flight Time: 2935 hours (Total, all aircraft), 722 hours (Total, this make and model), 2887 hours (Pilot In Command, all aircraft), 67 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 15 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft), 4 hours (Last 24 hours, all aircraft)

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Piper
Registration: N596ST
Model/Series: PA46 350P 
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 2013 
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 4636596
Landing Gear Type: Retractable - Tricycle 
Seats: 6
Date/Type of Last Inspection: June 5, 2020 Annual
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 4358 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection: 
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 1147 Hrs at time of accident
Engine Manufacturer: Lycoming
ELT: Installed, not activated 
Engine Model/Series: TIO-540-AE2A
Registered Owner: 
Rated Power: 350 Horsepower
Operator: On file 
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual (VMC) 
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: APA,5884 ft msl 
Distance from Accident Site: 0 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 14:53 Local 
Direction from Accident Site: 0°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Few / 9000 ft AGL 
Visibility: 10 miles
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 6 knots / 
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual:  /
Wind Direction: 360°
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual:  /
Altimeter Setting: 30.22 inches Hg 
Temperature/Dew Point: 29°C / -7°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Plainview, TX (PVW
Type of Flight Plan Filed: IFR
Destination: Englewood, CO (APA)
Type of Clearance: IFR
Departure Time: 
Type of Airspace: Class D

Airport Information

Airport: Centennial Airport APA
Runway Surface Type: Asphalt
Airport Elevation: 5885 ft msl 
Runway Surface Condition: Dry
Runway Used: 35R 
IFR Approach: None
Runway Length/Width: 10001 ft / 100 ft 
VFR Approach/Landing: Straight-in

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 None
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 None 
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 None
Latitude, Longitude: 39.558612,-104.849998(est)

Cessna R182 Skylane RG, N6208T: Accident occurred September 17, 2020 at Marksville Municipal Airport (KMKV), Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana














This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed.

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Cajun Air Leasing Inc

https://registry.faa.gov/N6208T

Location: Marksville, LA
Accident Number: CEN20CA411
Date & Time: September 17, 2020, 18:34 Local 
Registration: N6208T
Aircraft: Cessna R182 
Injuries: N/A
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Cessna 
Registration: N6208T
Model/Series: R182 No Series 
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held:
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: 
Condition of Light:
Observation Facility, Elevation:
Observation Time:
Distance from Accident Site: 
Temperature/Dew Point:
Lowest Cloud Condition: 
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: / ,
Lowest Ceiling:
Visibility:
Altimeter Setting:
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Marksville, LA (MKV) 
Destination:

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries:
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 
Aircraft Fire:
Ground Injuries: N/A 
Aircraft Explosion:
Total Injuries: N/A 
Latitude, Longitude: 31.094722,-92.069168 (est)

Boeing 737-700: Incident occurred February 20, 2021 at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (KMSY), Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS — Social media was abuzz Saturday morning as United Flight UA1832 was forced to make and emergency diversion to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (KMSY) from its intended destination to Houston due to a variety of mechanical failures.

According to multiple flight trackers on Twitter, UA1832 en route to George Bush International (IAH) from Cancun, Mexico disappeared from radar momentarily after squawking 7700 to indicate an emergency situation.

Both the starboard engine and flaps were reported as problematic.

After circling west of the airport at 1,500 feet at an average speed of 250 mph, UA1832 made a successful landing on Runway 11 at 10:08 a.m. All passengers and crew safely departed at Gate A1.

According to the United Airlines website, the twin-engine Boeing 737-700W was delayed 4 hours 21 minutes before departing from Gate A2. UA1832 is scheduled to arrive at Gate C43 in Terminal C at IAH at 2:28 p.m.

Calls to United Airlines have gone unanswered. However, a MSY spokesperson did confirm “UA1832 was diverted and landed safely in New Orleans.”

No further information on the status of the flight, aircraft or connection is available at this time.

Boeing 777-222, N772UA: Incident occurred February 20, 2021 in Broomfield, Colorado

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed.

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Denver, Colorado


Location: Broomfield, CO
Incident Number: DCA21FA085
Date & Time: February 20, 2021, 13:09 Local 
Registration: N772UA
Aircraft: Boeing 777-222 
Injuries: 239 None
Flight Conducted Under: Part 121: Air carrier - Scheduled

On February 20, 2021, about 1309 mountain standard time (MST), United Airlines flight 328, a Boeing 777-222, N772UA, experienced a failure of the right engine, a Pratt & Whitney PW4077, while climbing through an altitude of about 12,500 feet mean sea level (msl) shortly after takeoff from Denver International Airport (DEN), Denver, Colorado. There were no injuries to the 239 passengers and crew onboard, and the airplane sustained minor damage. The regularly scheduled domestic passenger flight was operating under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 121 from DEN to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), Honolulu, Hawaii.

Investigative updates can be found on the NTSB website at the “United Airlines Flight 328 Boeing 777 Engine Incident” investigation page.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Boeing 
Registration: N772UA
Model/Series: 777-222
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operator: 
Operating Certificate(s) Held: Flag carrier (121)
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site:
Condition of Light:
Observation Facility, Elevation: 
Observation Time:
Distance from Accident Site:
Temperature/Dew Point:
Lowest Cloud Condition: 
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: / ,
Lowest Ceiling: 
Visibility:
Altimeter Setting: 
Type of Flight Plan Filed:
Departure Point: Denver, CO (DEN) 
Destination: Honolulu , HI (HNL)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 10 None 
Aircraft Damage: Minor
Passenger Injuries: 229 None
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 239 None
Latitude, Longitude: 39.929179,-104.96439


United’s Recent Engine Failure Spooked Denver. It’s Happened Before.

The U.S. aviation industry and FAA acted only haltingly—until last month’s emergency—to address a safety hazard: jet-turbine covers that tear away

When a Boeing 777’s engine cover broke apart and rained parts on a Denver suburb on Feb. 20, the news rang familiar to Christopher Behnam. In February 2018, the 777 he was piloting as captain suffered a similar emergency with the same engine type.

His plane, United Airlines Flight 1175 to Honolulu, was over the ocean 120 miles from the runway carrying more than 370 passengers and crew when a violent blast rocked it.

The jet shook uncontrollably, rolled sharply, and the noise was deafening, said Capt. Behnam. An engine had suffered severe damage. Years of training kicked in, the pilots regained control and shut the engine down. Even so, the plane was hard to handle. A third pilot went into the cabin and looked out the window: The engine hadn’t just failed; its cover had ripped away.

“After the explosion, it felt like she was going to fall apart,” Capt. Behnam said. “I knew I could fly the airplane. The issue was, can I fly it long enough to land it?” The pilots brought the plane to a safe landing in Hawaii.

Capt. Christopher Behnam with failed engine after landing in Honolulu, February 2018.


The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates U.S. aviation failures, concluded that a roughly 35-pound fan blade broke in the plane’s Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engine due to fatigue, spiraling forward and causing parts of the engine cover to drop into the sea.

Until last month’s Colorado incident involving United Flight 328, the aviation industry and the Federal Aviation Administration had acted only haltingly to address such breakups. That’s despite a series of such failures starting at least five years ago.

Engine “fan blade-outs” are an old problem in aviation. But in recent cases involving Boeing airliners, fast-spinning blade fragments have shot forward into the engine’s inlet, rather than into a protective casing that acts like a bulletproof vest around the sides.

That has resulted in another problem. Engine covers sometimes aren’t surviving those blade fractures, creating bigger hazards for planes, passengers and people on the ground.

A similar engine-cover emergency had hit a Southwest Airlines Co. Boeing 737 flight in 2016. At least three more happened after Capt. Behnam’s flight. Two months after his scare, a Southwest engine cover broke and blasted out a window; a passenger was partially sucked out and died. On Dec. 4, 2020, an engine broke up on a 777 flight near Japan.

Regulators, engine makers and airlines have confronted the problem with a short-term remedy. With varying degrees of urgency in recent years, they have stepped up fan-blade inspections to find pre-fracture cracks that could lead to engine covers ripping off.

Emergency Aloft

In a string of incidents since 2016, engine fan blades have fractured and caused a problem: engine covers ripping off midair. Such a scenario played out on a Boeing 777 bound for Hawaii in 2018:


Despite working on modifications and replacements for more than two years, plane maker Boeing Co., which is responsible for engine coverings on its aircraft, and the FAA have yet to finalize plans to redesign the types of engine covers that have ripped off. “We’ve already seen extreme cases,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “It is something that the industry needs to get on top of and get corrected immediately.”

Complicating the industry’s response to the safety hazard is that it requires coordination among several segments—airplane manufacturers, engine makers, airlines—and among different engineers and regulators focused on avoiding fan-blade fractures and still others focused on preventing engine covers from detaching midair.

In the U.S., that puts the FAA in the best position to tackle the hazard. Its handling of the engine breakups is the regulator’s first big test since its fumbled responses to fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019.

The FAA declined to make senior agency officials available for interviews. A spokesman said a priority has been reducing the risk of fan-blade failures that can lead to engine covers detaching midair. The FAA spokesman said design changes to a “critical piece of structure must be carefully evaluated and tested” to ensure they provide the same level of safety or better without introducing unintended risks.

Boeing spokesman Bradley Akubuiro said the company “has taken steps to move forward” with the FAA to improve engine covers and is giving its technical teams time they need to ensure any of the manufacturer’s design changes provide their expected performance and maintain overall safety. While designing changes is “exacting and time-consuming,” he said, “this work has been, and remains, a high priority.”

Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King said the airline’s leaders, including Chief Executive Gary Kelly, were focused on understanding and learning from the carrier’s fatal accident while working with manufacturers to prevent similar tragedies in the future. Pratt & Whitney and United Airlines Holdings Inc. declined to comment.

Planes made by Airbus SE haven’t experienced any such engine-cover breakups due to fan-blade fractures in recent years, according to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, the primary regulator for Boeing’s rival across the Atlantic.

Over the past five years, the problem of engine covers detaching due to fan-blade failures that spew parts forward appears to have primarily surfaced on two Boeing aircraft types, the 777 and 737, which use engines made by different manufacturers, according to current and former FAA officials.

To keep fan blades from breaking in the first place, regulators have focused first on stepping up inspections. Within days of the Dec. 4 engine breakup near Japan, Tokyo’s air-safety regulators ordered new engine inspections—visual checks and ultraviolet-light tests, a Japanese aviation official said.

The FAA opted against immediate action and was still considering its next step when the United 777’s engine broke apart near Denver last month. Before that incident, Pratt & Whitney, a unit of Raytheon Technologies Corp. , was considering issuing a service bulletin telling airlines to conduct specialized inspections of certain 777 engines every 1,000 flights, said the NTSB’s Mr. Sumwalt. The FAA had required the deep inspections every 6,500 flights after the 2018 incident in Hawaii.

The FAA declined to comment about its response to the December breakup. The agency said it makes safety-oversight decisions in a rigorous, well-established analytical process aimed at quickly identifying and mitigating risk, adding: “To suggest that there is commonality among different events ignores the fact that data for different events is unique to each specific event.”

Early warning

An early warning about the risk that engine covers could crumble when broken blades fly far enough forward came in August 2016. A Southwest flight from New Orleans to Orlando made an emergency landing after an engine failed—a fan blade broke, causing significant damage and leading the cabin to depressurize. One of the engine’s 24 fan blades had broken due to fatigue, NTSB investigators found.

The spinning blade had careened into the front inlet where air flows into the engine. Most of the inlet broke off, spitting debris into the Boeing 737 jet’s fuselage, wing and horizontal stabilizer.

Regulators and industry experts, including at the NTSB, generally viewed that event as a one-off, the NTSB’s Mr. Sumwalt said.

The engine’s manufacturer, CFM International—a joint venture of General Electric Co. and France’s Safran SA —developed a new, more high-tech inspection protocol using ultrasound technology. A GE spokesman speaking on behalf of the joint venture said the engine maker worked with regulators and customers to enhance and implement inspection procedures and remained committed to working on changes stemming from the NTSB’s recommendations.

The FAA in 2017 considered mandating additional fan-blade testing, though it didn’t require additional checks until the following year when it ordered emergency inspections in the aftermath of the fatal engine-cover breakup on another Southwest flight.

“We determined early that we would require some corrective action and that it was an unsafe condition,” Christopher Spinney, an FAA engine specialist, said during an NTSB hearing in 2018. “But we also determined that we had some time.” Mr. Spinney, through an FAA spokesman, declined to comment.

On Capt. Behnam’s flight that year, after the fan blade scattered parts of the 777’s engine cover, the plane’s aerodynamics were out of whack. It felt, he said, like “having an open barn door” on the right side of the plane.

Two months later on a Southwest 737, debris from an engine covering—again loosened by a broken fan blade—smashed into the plane’s body, blasting out the window through which the passenger was partially sucked.

She was the first U.S. airline-passenger fatality in nearly a decade and Southwest’s first passenger fatality. After the death, Mr. Kelly, Southwest’s CEO, pushed Boeing for an engine-cover fix to avoid a repeat of such a tragedy, according to a person familiar with the plane maker’s work on the 737 engine cover.

After those incidents, the industry began to grapple with vulnerable engine covers. Not only were fan blades failing, they were doing damage to engine coverings that had been expected to withstand such events.

Boeing engineers were particularly concerned about a potential loss of control should engine covers break off and damage a plane’s horizontal stabilizer, said the person familiar with the plane maker’s work.

Engine makers put their engines through a battery of tests to make sure they will hold together if a fan blade breaks. They are largely focused on making sure debris doesn’t go through the side of the engine casing, where it could penetrate the body of the plane. Broken fan blades can still cause damage by flying forward.

Coverings go through their own certification process on a separate track.

While engine coverings are expected to contain broken fan blades, they aren’t designed to shield more-serious failures of hubs the blades are attached to—as happened on an Airbus A380 jet over Greenland in 2017. Parts fell off at 37,000 feet, damaging buildings but causing no injuries.

Within about two weeks of that incident, the FAA issued an emergency order requiring inspections on roughly 120 of the jets equipped with certain engines produced by Engine Alliance, a joint venture between GE and Pratt & Whitney. GE referred inquiries to Pratt & Whitney, which declined to comment on Engine Alliance’s behalf. An Airbus spokesman said the plane maker takes into account past incidents and accidents, including those on other manufacturers’ aircraft, to enhance safety.

Boeing engineers have been working on a plan to strengthen 737 engine covers, essentially to soften the shock of a fan-blade failure and keep parts attached to the plane even when the blades fly forward, people familiar with the work said.

In March 2020, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson told the NTSB the agency was working with the plane maker to strengthen the 737 engine covers, according to written responses to the NTSB’s recommendations. He said the agency would eventually mandate a new design change. The FAA declined to make Mr. Dickson available for an interview.

In August 2020, Boeing provided an update to the FAA on its work to also strengthen 777 engine covers. The manufacturer told regulators it had decided to redesign and make replacement covers with which airlines could retrofit their fleets, according to the FAA document.

Boeing’s 777 engine-cover fix didn’t come in time for the Dec. 4 incident near Japan, on a Japan Airlines Co. 777 with Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines. Two of an engine’s fan blades broke shortly after takeoff from Okinawa, according to a preliminary report by Japanese investigators. Part of the engine’s cover detached, and the jet’s body and horizontal stabilizer sustained damage, the report said. A JAL spokesman declined to comment on the cause of the incident.

The FAA held off ordering immediate action. After the December incident, the agency said it reviewed the JAL engine’s maintenance and inspection history, conducted a metallurgical exam and was evaluating whether to adjust blade inspections.

It wasn’t immediately clear to investigators and regulators whether the fan-blade cracks at the root of both 777 engine breakups roughly two years apart shared the same underlying cause, according to a person familiar with the FAA’s response. Age, manufacturing defects or maintenance slip-ups can cause metal to crack and eventually fracture. The FAA declined to comment about its work with Boeing on 777 engine covers.

Since the Colorado 777 incident, Boeing has shared some of the changes it is considering to shore up 737 engine covers with carriers including Southwest and American Airlines Group Inc., said people briefed on the matter. It has also been in talks with United about potential changes to 777 engine covers, according to a person familiar with those discussions. Boeing and the FAA declined to comment on when 777 or 737 engine-cover fixes would be completed.

Japanese regulators grounded the aircraft the day after the Colorado incident. Soon thereafter, Mr. Dickson ordered immediate specialized inspections even while some FAA officials didn’t believe such drastic action was necessary, said people familiar with the agency’s response.

The move, which the FAA described as “decisive action,” effectively took more than 50 Boeing 777s with certain Pratt & Whitney engines—all operated by United—out of service for months, until inspections have been completed.

Tom Haueter, a former NTSB director of aviation safety who now consults on safety and accident investigations, said: “They grounded the fleet—that’s about as aggressive as you can get.”


 

Boeing Co. was planning to strengthen protective engine covers on its 777 jets months before a pair of recent serious failures, including one near Denver last weekend, according to an internal Federal Aviation Administration document.

The plane maker and regulator had been discussing potential fixes even longer—for about two years, according to people familiar with the matter. The talks began after two failures in 2018, one on a 777 operated by United Airlines Holdings Inc.and the other on a Southwest Airlines Co. 737.

Because potential modifications to 777 external engine covers, commonly known as cowlings, had various shortcomings, “Boeing has decided to redesign the fan cowl instead of trying to modify existing fan cowls to address both the structural strength concerns” and moisture issues, according to the internal FAA document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

“Boeing will be manufacturing new fan cowls and providing service instructions for operators to remove and replace the fan cowls,” according to the document, part of a routine Aug. 6, 2020, update on efforts under way at the agency’s Seattle-area offices. Boeing and the FAA declined to comment on the engine-cover plan’s status Wednesday.

Separately on Thursday, the FAA said Boeing would pay $6.6 million for failing to meet its obligations under a 2015 settlement and to resolve two enforcement cases.

Such changes to airplane parts can require years of design, testing and regulatory approvals. Some aviation-safety experts and regulators have been growing increasingly concerned about whether engine covers are robust enough to withstand the impact of a fan blade’s breaking off and shooting outward during flights.

While rare, such engine-cover damage has come up in a handful of recent engine failures. Pilots train to land a plane operating on one engine, which can be done safely, but large pieces of metal from covers can put other parts of the aircraft—and passengers—at risk. The engine-testing process hasn’t beenfully accounted for that possibility, according to some safety experts and reports by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Jim Hall, chairman of the NTSB from 1994 to 2001, said recent incidents should have prompted regulators to look “very aggressively“ at issues surrounding engine covers.

“I have yet to see indication this was done,” he said.

Boeing said it would continue to follow the FAA’s guidance on 777 engine covers, and it is “engaged in ongoing efforts to introduce safety and performance improvements across the fleet.”

An FAA spokesman said reducing the risk of engine fan-blade failure that could lead to cowling damage has been a priority—the focus of agency directives following the 777 incidents in 2018 and last week. FAA officials have said the agency was working with Boeing on a design change for a different type of engine that failed on the 2018 Southwest flight—killing a passenger—and reviewing the need for changes to other engines.

“Any proposed design change to a critical piece of structure must be carefully evaluated and tested to ensure it provides an equivalent or improved level of safety and does not introduce unintended risks,” the agency spokesman said.

The 777 engine failure last weekend came shortly after the plane—as in one of the 2018 incidents, operated by United—took off from Denver International Airport. An apparently weakened fan blade broke off and seemed to have sheared a second blade roughly in half, according to the NTSB, which is leading the investigation. The engine’s cover was ripped away, leaving a trail of debris in the town below.

It resembled two recent failures of certain Pratt & Whitney-made engines on a subset of Boeing 777 aircraft—the 2018 United flight and one in December of 2020 operated by Japan Airlines Co. Authorities in the U.S. and Japan attributed both to fan blades that snapped off and battered engine covers.

In all three cases, the planes landed safely without any injuries.

After the 2018 failure on the United 777, the FAA mandated that fan blades on the type of engine involved undergo special thermal-acoustic image inspections—using sound waves to detect signs of cracks—every 6,500 flights. The engine that failed over the weekend had made about 3,000 flights since its last inspection, according to people familiar with the matter.

The FAA on Monday ordered immediate thermal-acoustic image inspections for fan blades on certain Pratt & Whitney engines on some Boeing 777 jets. Pratt & Whitney is a unit of aerospace company Raytheon Technologies Corp.

But a design change to fortify engine covers is a longer, more involved process. The internal FAA document said Chicago-based Boeing had presented its 777 engine-cover findings to FAA specialists in the Seattle area in early August.

Aircraft engines and their protective covers are supposed to constrain broken fan blades and other metal parts, preventing them from damaging structures needed to keep the plane aloft. Detached engine covers that don’t fall to the ground could create aerodynamic drag, safety experts said. That could increase consumption of fuel if the plane is flying less efficiently, a concern for long flights over water with few options for emergency landings, one of these experts said. The FAA document cites “fuel exhaustion” as a potential safety hazard.

Engines’ certification tests have focused on making sure that broken fan blades don’t shoot out the side of an engine and puncture the plane’s fuselage. Less attention has been paid to the prospect that a blade could shoot forward and damage the front part of the engine covers. Those covers aren’t required to be attached during tests of how engines cope with broken fan blades so the blades remain visible.

“When you lose big pieces like that, that’s a hazard,” said Jeffrey Guzzetti, a former director of the FAA’s accident investigation division. “There was never a requirement to consider this before—it just never really happened that much.”

The FAA offered few details of Boeing’s alleged violations when it announced new penalties Thursday. The agency’s administrator, Steve Dickson, said he has “reiterated to Boeing’s leadership time and again that the company must prioritize safety and regulatory compliance.”

Boeing didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The plane maker has said it will follow FAA guidance on “all matters related to safety and compliance.”