© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: United Airlines flight UA328 returns to Denver International Airport with its starboard engine burning after a Mayday alarm goes off
Posted by Eric M. Johnson
SEATTLE (Reuters) – Two years ago, after a second fatal 737 MAX crash in five months, Boeing (NYSE 🙂 Co worked behind the scenes to urge aviation authorities not to ground the jet.
His efforts went as far as the White House, and Boeing's then-general manager Dennis Muilenburg called former US President Donald Trump to assure him the jet was safe.
But Saturday's engine failure on a United Airlines 777, which produced harrowing footage of a burning engine and chunks of metal in a suburb of Denver – but no injuries – sparked a completely different reaction in Boeing.
Within a day, Boeing issued a statement urging airlines to stop operating 777 jets powered by the same Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines. This effectively grounded 128 jets, as the studies had shown.
The world's largest aerospace company also expressed its strong support for the US Aviation Administration's call for additional inspections and the mandatory suspension of flights through Japan.
"If Boeing has learned something from the MAX situation, action must be taken immediately," said an industry source familiar with Boeing's thoughts. "Even if this action could result in loss or embarrassment, do it quickly."
Boeing's response to Saturday's engine failure reflects the challenges its brand and image are facing in rebuilding its core commercial aircraft programs and corporate finances.
The United 777 incident occurred in the United States – the epicenter of Boeing's frayed regulatory and political ties and a market where aviation accidents are exceptionally rare – and attracts exceptional attention when they occur.
The dramatic incident on Saturday and a separate incident on the same day in the Netherlands that blew up another PW4000 engine on a 747 sparked a storm on social media in which widespread video saw jet engines in the air Flames showed and a massive engine blade was wedged in the roof of a car.
Investigators are focusing their attention on the engine, which was designed and built by Raytheon Technologies (NYSE 🙂 Corp & # 39; s Pratt & Whitney unit and not Boeing.
When media reports of the Denver incident emerged on Saturday, Boeing officials told the FAA that they supported a recommendation for additional inspections, a second source said. That was hours before Boeing issued its public comment, though effective grounding would affect other customers who fly PW4000 engines.
"You're trying to rebuild, to work together, to take responsibility," said Paul Argenti, professor at the Tuck School of Business in Dartmouth. "Their reputation is the most valuable asset they have and they need to be transparent to build trust."
A Boeing spokesman declined to comment.
The incidents followed other airborne engine failures involving the Pratt & Whitney PW4000, most recently in December when a malfunction forced a Tokyo-based JAL 777 to abruptly return to Naha Airport.
A Pratt & Whitney spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company said it is coordinating with regulators to review the inspection logs.
The weekend incidents affected two aging planes and came in the middle of a global pandemic that has decimated demand for the largest Boeing-made jets. The potential financial impact of grounding older aircraft on Boeing is relatively minor, according to analysts.
In contrast, the MAX Crisis was linked to a design issue with Boeing's best-selling jet, and it came at a time of booming demand for air travel.
Grounding the 737 MAX for nearly two years cost Boeing approximately $ 20 billion, sparked criminal and congressional investigations, hundreds of lawsuits, and displaced executives – including Muilenburg.
As CEO, Muilenburg apologized to the victim's families and made changes to the board and Boeing's technology to improve security oversight. Since leaving office at the end of 2019, he has refused to comment on the company.
Industry experts warned it is premature to assess Boeing's response and how the MAX crisis has changed its culture.
"The stakes are far less," said Richard Aboulafia, aerospace analyst for the Teal Group. "You may have learned lessons from the MAX crisis – but that is not the situation that it would show."