FAA orders 747-8, 787 engine inspections

The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday issued an airworthiness directive requiring inspections every 90 days of General Electric GEnx engines for defects that have been linked to engine failures on Boeing Co. 787s and 747-8s.

The move came a week after the National Transportation Safety Board sent the FAA a letter expressing concern about the “possibility that multiple engines on the same airplane” could fail while a jet is flying over water and far from airports.

After reviewing the incidents with GEnx engines, the FAA determined that an unsafe condition “is likely to exist or develop in other products of the same type design.” The agency called for immediate implementation of the directive rather than waiting until after a comment period, noting “the risk to the flying public justifies waiving notice and comment.”

Boeing has worked with the FAA, GE and customers of affected 787s and 747-8s that are currently flying to complete initial inspections, Jim Proulx, Boeing spokesman, wrote in an emailed statement. Boeing will inspect all GEnx engines on all new 787s and 747-8s before the aircraft are delivered.

“As for FAA’s repetitive inspection requirement, we have worked with GE to design an inspection regime that can be accomplished during the course of regularly scheduled maintenance and not affect airline operations,” Boeing’s Proulx wrote.

GE developed an ultrasound inspection to detect cracks in GEnx engine fan shafts. A spokesman for GE said last week that the company has introduced a different coating process on new engines to prevent the problem.

The FAA estimated the cost of inspection equipment at $105,000. Each engine takes about nine hours to inspect at an average labor cost of $85 per hour, the agency projected.

The airworthiness directive applies to all airplanes equipped with GEnx-1B or GEnx-2B engines. Boeing has delivered seven 787s with GEnx-1B engines to three customers: Air India, Japan Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines. The company has delivered 29 747-8s to three VIP customers and seven carriers: Atlas Air, Cargolux, Cathay Pacific, Korean Air, Nippon Cargo, Air Bridge Cargo and Lufthansa, which is the only commercial operator of a 747-8 passenger plane.

Only two of the delivered aircraft are registered to U.S. operators.

The FAA doesn’t typically require such frequent inspections of new engines. Boeing delivered the first 747-8 freighter in October 2011 and first 747-8 passenger plane in April. All 747-8s are powered by GEnx engines. Customers have a choice between GE and Rolls-Royce engines on the 787. Boeing delivered the first 787 powered by GEnx engines in March.

Read the FAA’s directive at faa.gov.

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