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Dozens of airliners using Heathrow could have a fatal engine defect, so according to the US aviation safety regulator, the chances of another failure like the one that caused British Airways' crash landing last year are "very high ”.
Rolls-Royce, the maker of the engines, is working on a safety modification, but the Boeing 777 will continue in service with the defect for another 18 months.
Until the change is made, more than 220 Boeing 777s with Rolls-Royce engines, including 15 from BA, will continue to be vulnerable to ice in the fuel lines that causes a loss of power in the engines.
The National Transportation Safety Council (NTSB) highlighted the danger in a report released this week. The British Air Accident Investigation Division (AAIB) also presented a report on the problem, but avoided mentioning the continuing risk to passengers.
The 152 people aboard the BA 777 were narrowly spared in January 2008, when their plane lost power to both engines during final approach and made a forced landing on the grass just inside the fence around Heathrow's perimeter. The plane's landing gear was not deployed, but only one passenger was seriously injured thanks to the skill of Captain Peter Burkill and his co-pilot John Coward.
Another 777 with Rolls-Royce engines, from Delta Airlines, lost engine power in almost exactly the same way in November of last year after ice blocked the fuel supply. The pilots managed to implement an emergency action to correct the failure, known as "rollback".
This incident occurred despite Boeing introducing new safety procedures in September last year that it claimed had solved the problem.
The US Security Council said this week that after two such rollbacks have occurred in a year, the chances of something similar happening again are high. " He added that "the only acceptable solution to this security vulnerability" is to redesign the faulty engine part.
Rolls-Royce admitted that the part, the fuel / oil heat exchanger, was defective, but noted that the replacement part is still in the testing phase and will not be ready for installation for another 12 months.
Other airlines that use 777s with Rolls-Royce engines include Singapore Airlines and American Airlines.
The council recommended that airlines should be required to change the part within six months after it is available for installation, meaning the 777s could continue to fly with the engine defect until August 2010.
Rolls-Royce hopes to be able to accelerate the modification program to begin installation before next winter, when the risk of ice forming in the fuel system is much higher. However, it avoided setting a deadline for the exchange of defective parts.
British Airways announced that it will not withdraw any 777s from its services.
Source: The Times Business