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FAA orders urgent fix on some 787 engines

The 787 has again become the subject of unwanted scrutiny after the FAA ordered airlines operating the widebody to correct an “urgent safety issue” on the GEnx-1B engine powering some of the aircraft.

According to The Seattle Times, a directive from the regulator issued on Friday (April 22) stated that “the potential for common cause failure of both engines in flight is an urgent safety issue,” and that the problem affects 29 airlines operating a total of 176 787 aircraft. It stems from an incident on a Japan Airlines operated 787 flying from Vancouver to Tokyo on January 29 where one of the aircraft’s engines shut down mid-flight before landing safely using the remaining working engine.

The FAA has instructed airlines to either repair the GE engines or replace at least one  of them with an older model by the first week of October 2016, in order to prevent ice from building up on the engine's fan blades.

Both OEMs involved – aircraft manufacturer Boeing and engine maker GE – said rework is already under way after the latter issued a service bulletin on March 11. To date, around 40 aircraft having undergone repair so far, GE confirmed.

The issue of icing has proved problematic in aircraft maintenance on the GEnx engine before, and this isn’t the first time the 787 has faced icing-related issues. 

In an unrelated problem back in November 2013, GE confirmed that Boeing ordered airlines from flying 787 and 747-8 aircraft powered by its engines near high-altitude thunderstorms. This was due to the storms generating moisture which could get into the engines and form dangerous levels of ice. 

While the more casual observer may be alarmed by the FAA directive, the fact that the problem was identified and met with such a quick reaction shows how swiftly the industry reacts to safety issues. 

But it also raises interesting questions about the effect of ice on aircraft, and exactly what innovations the industry can make to further minimise its potentially damaging impact. 

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