When a jetliner’s engine explodes moments before take off, people ask questions. Now, less than a week after that very thing happened to a British Airways 777, answers are starting to emerge — and they’re scary.
Turns out the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) warned both Boeing and General Electric, the 777’s engine-maker, about a flaw in the plane’s engine design that could result in the very catastrophe that took place last week at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas.
What’s worse is that the safety warning was issued over four years ago. The FAA warned that cracks could form in the engine’s high-pressure compressor spool causing “uncontained engine failure and damage to the aeroplane.” In other words, the FAA knew that the engine’s turbines could fail under stress, causing an explosion and a shower of debris big enough to set the rest of the plane on fire.
That’s exactly what happened to the 777 in Las Vegas. The good news is that the British Airways pilots saved the day by acting fast, extinguishing the fire and slamming on the brakes so that passengers could evacuate should the fire get anywhere close to the fuel tanks in the wings. If that had happened, the entire plane would have been engulfed in flames, likely burning up completely in just a few minutes. This almost happened. Miraculously, all 159 passengers and 13 crew members escaped with their lives.
The FAA issued a new airworthiness directive for the 777 engine in question that required additional inspections to spot the cracks before they caused a catastrophic event. It’s so far unclear whether inspectors simply missed seeing a crack or the FAA should have required more frequent inspections. Boeing told The Daily Beast that it was “is providing technical assistance to the NTSB,” while GE and the FAA did not respond to comment. Regardless, one thing is clear: Boeing and GE knew about this problem years ago.
Then again, Boeing doesn’t have a super great track record when it comes to using defective parts on planes full of people.
Image via AP / YouTube