By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON, Sept 19 (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said o n W ednesday it would stop short of issuing an emergency directive on recently identified problems in General Electric engines on a pair of Boeing Co jet models, sticking instead to more routine safety notices.
An emergency directive could have meant temporary groundings of the GE-powered Boeing 787 and 747-8 jets, for instance, or other significant caps on fleet operations that now may be less likely.
The issue emerged July 28 when a GEnx engine on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner failed during a pre-flight taxi test at Charleston International Airport in South Carolina, sparking a small fire by the runway. On Sept. 11, a GEnx-powered Boeing 747-8 wide-body freighter was forced to abort a take-off from Shanghai, China, after it lost thrust.
“The FAA will soon issue an airworthiness directive and will take appropriate action,” the FAA said in a statement that dropped its previous reference to its preparing to release an emergency directive to deal with the matter.
“It is NOT an emergency AD,” an FAA spokeswoman said in an e-mail. AD is short for airworthiness directive, a notice to aircraft operators of a known safety defect.
GE had no immediate comment on the FAA’s decision to forego an emergency directive.
Jim Proulx, a spokesman for Boeing, said the company could not comment nor speculate on any action the FAA might take in the matter.
The FAA is expected to issue its directive on Friday or next Monday.
Separately, Boeing said it plans to deliver the first 787 made in South Carolina next week, a jet equipped with GEnx engines, noting the engines have undergone special inspection.
“We have done the checks on all our GE engines,” Jack Jones, Boeing vice president and general manager, said Wednesday at an international trade conference near Charleston, South Carolina. “GE has done a great job of figuring out quickly what we have to do to ensure the integrity of the engine. We know that and we’ve implemented it.”
Jones said the engine issue had not affected Boeing’s schedule of delivering planes. “It obviously didn’t stop deliveries. That is absolutely critical,” he said.
Analysts said it now appears the FAA would call for repetitive, short-interval inspections of the GE engines, possibly because the root cause and a solution have been found.
“As long as the upcoming directive does not materially restrict the affected aircraft from flying their intended flight profiles, we think it safe to say that Boeing has dodged the bullet on this one,” said Carter Leake, an aerospace analyst with BB&T Capital Markets in Richmond, Virginia.
Leake had said in recent a note to investors that “we would not be surprised if Air India opted not to close on aircraft due for immediate delivery this month” due to concerns about he GE engines.
GE has introduced a new coating process to affected parts of new engines, Rick Kennedy, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail.
“The change to different coatings, which has already been certified on other GE engines like the GE90, is FAA-approved for GEnx production,” he said.
On Friday, the National Transportation Safety Board had issued two “urgent” safety recommendations to the FAA after it had found cracks or crack indications in a GEnx engine part called the fan midshaft.
The recommendations were, first, to issue an airworthiness directive to require, before further flight, the immediate ultrasonic inspection of the fan midshaft in all GEnx-1B and -2B engines that had not undergone inspection.
The second was to require repetitive inspections of the fan midshaft at a “sufficiently short interval” that would permit multiple inspections and detection of a crack before it could reach critical length.
The FAA, in its statement, said inspections already have been completed on all passenger airplanes, none of which are with U.S. airlines. Atlas Cargo Airlines is the only operator with two U.S. registered aircraft, it said.
“We understand both inspections were completed with no findings” of cracks, the statement added.
Hans Weber of TECOP International Inc, a San Diego, California, consultant on aerospace technology, said it appeared that the root cause of the fracture problem had been determined to the satisfaction of GE, Boeing and the FAA.
The intervals between repeat inspections is in the process of being determined by GE and the FAA, he said.
Other recent examples of airplanes operating with known defects under controlled inspection regimens are the RR Trent 900 engine for the Airbus A380 and the wing cracks of the A380, Weber added.