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Will The Recent Pratt & Witney 4000-112 Engine Failure Have A Lasting Impact On Storage Levels For Older Pratt & Whitney-Powered 777 Aircraft Fleet?

In response to the uncontained engine failure of a United Airline Boeing 777-200 flight from Denver to Honolulu on the 20th February, IBA's analyst Jie Zhou uses InsightIQ Fleet and Flight data to consider the short and long term impact for the Fleet.


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Following the event on the 20th February, Boeing announced it recommended the grounding of all 777s powered with Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines and, from 23rd February, operators grounded all Boeing 777s fitted with PW4000 types, switching off the engines until the relevant authorities provide clarification.


The US National Transportation Safety Board reported two fractured fan blades on the 777's second engine (PW 4077) caused its failure although subsequent information cited metal fatigue affecting one fan blade. The November 1994-built aircraft (MSN 26930), delivered to United Airlines in September 1995, had never been involved in previous incidents. However, the PW4000-112 engine failure on 20th February was not an isolated event, two similar cases affecting a Boeing 777 equipped with this engine type has occurred.


InsightIQ Fleet data shows that United Airlines, the largest operator of the Boeing 777-200 model equipped with PW4000-112 engines, has 53 in-service aircraft in its fleet with 20 actively operating prior to this engine failure incident. It is unlikely grounding the Boeing 777-200/-200ER/-300s equipped with PW4000-112 engines will significantly affect operations of the airlines that currently use the type, however, since the fleet's average age is over 20 years. Furthermore, Covid had already squeezed long-haul flight demand and grounded many; IBA anticipates the aircraft will not return to service. Several of the limited number of airlines operating the type have before now started to retire them from their fleets; over the last two years, ANA and Korean Air together retired five Boeing 777s fitted with PW4000 engines.


Following the malfunction, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Japanese Civil Aviation Board and South Korean Aviation Regulator issued emergency airworthiness directives to ground all Pratt and Whitney-powered 777 widebodies. In Europe, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said it needed information on the incident's cause to determine what action to take and the UK's Civil Aviation Authority imposed a ban on all Boeing 777s powered with Pratt & Whitney PW4000-112 engines.


IBA's InsightIQ Fleets reveals there were 130 in-service Boeing 777s powered by PW4000 engines as of 19th February 2021, only 55 of which were active one day before the incident. The current average age of in-service aircraft fitted with PW4000-112 engines is 20.4 years. Operators of Boeing 777s equipped with PW4000-112 engines are presented in the following table:


Active Aircraft types fitted with PW4000-112 engines

Source: InsightIQ Fleets


After United Airline's 53 aircraft, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways were operating ten and eight aircraft of the type respectively and, lastly, South Korea has three active operators of the type: Asiana Airlines, Korean Air and Jin Air with seven, six and four aircraft respectively. Operators of Boeing 777 aircraft equipped with PW4000-112 engines are presented in the following table.


operators of boeing 777s fitted with PW4000-12 engines

Source: InsightIQ Fleets


IBA's InsightIQ Fleets identify the PW4000 series as the engine type installed on a minority of Boeing 777-200/-200ER/-300s at 29%. The majority of the 777 aircraft types, around 38%, are fitted with Rolls-Royce engines and 33% of them are equipped with General Electric engines. Of the Boeing 777s equipped with PW4000-112 engines, the PW4090 model was the most popular Pratt & Whitney engine. It was fitted on 93 aircraft, representing over 72% of the Pratt & Whitney engine fleet.


distribution of boeing 777-200 and boeing 777-300 by engine manufacturers and engine types

Source: InsightIQ Fleets


ANA announced in October 2020 it would start retiring its ageing Boeing 777 aircraft 'ahead of schedule' over the next few years and Japan Airlines was also among the current carriers operating the type to announce the early retirement of its domestic Boeing 777 fleet, including both 777-200 and 777-300 models, by March 2023.


The Covid-19 outbreak increased the number of grounded Boeing 777s before the recent Denver event due to falling demand for long-haul flights. In January 2020 there were around 130 active aircraft of the type which, by 19th February this year, had plummeted to 55 active examples. Aircraft Flight data from InsightIQ illustrates the number of operated flights by Boeing 777s equipped with PW4000 engines was down by 68% in 2020 compared to 2019. Despite this, the PW4000-112 engine-powered Boeing 777 fleet was the most active over the last twelve months compared to Boeing 777 fleets fitted with General Electric and Roll-Royce engines.


The graph below illustrates the number of flights operated with Boeing 777-200s, 777-200ERs and 777-300s between January 2020 and January 2021 distributed by engine type.


Source: InsightIQ Flights


In conclusion, IBA expects many of the currently stored Boeing 777-200/-200ERs and Boeing 777-300s to remain grounded once demand for long-haul flights recovers. Operators will favour more modern and fuel-efficient aircraft types, such as Airbus A350s and Boeing 787s, which offer lower seat capacity and are more suitable for future demand. Whether the recent engine failure has a lasting impact on storage levels of older Pratt & Whitney-powered 777s is unclear. The age profile of the fleet and ongoing phase-out strategies lead us to expect more aircraft retirements in the coming years.


If you have any further questions or comments please contact Jie Zhou


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