South Africa Boeing 777
EVERETT, WA - FEBRUARY 22: Workers stand near a Pratt & Whitney engine on a Boeing KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueling jet built for the U.S. Air Force at Boeings airplane production facility on February 22, 2021 in Everett, Washington. Following Saturdays engine failure on a Boeing 777 over Denver, the FAA issued an emergency inspection order for Boeing 777 aircraft with Pratt & Whitney engines. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
  • A jet engine fire which dropped debris on a US suburb has led to urgent grounding and inspection orders impacting certain Boeing 777 planes.
  • The mechanical fault, attributed to Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines in 69 aircraft, has disrupted international flights.
  • There are, however, no South African airlines which own or operate Boeing 777 planes.
  • But this does not mean that travel to or from South Africa won’t be impacted, with the Civil Aviation Authority keeping a close eye on several airlines which currently use the country’s airspace.
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The grounding of certain Boeing 777 aircraft, following a harrowing engine failure incident in the United States (US) on Saturday 20 February, will have implications for South Africa. While no local airlines operate Boeing 777 planes, a host of international carriers, with regular South African flightpaths, will be scrutinised by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Boeing recently confirmed that its 777 aircraft fitted with Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines had been grounded in several countries. This comes after United Airlines flight 328 experienced a mid-air emergency, when one of the jet engines burst into flames and dropped debris on a suburban neighbourhood in Colorado.

While nobody onboard or on the ground was injured by the engine failure – and the plane was able to land safely in Denver – the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) ordered an immediate investigation into the cause of the fire. The NTSB found that a cracked fan blade, as a result of metal fatigue, had led to the engine failure shortly after take-off.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has since instructed that all Boeing 777 aircraft equipped with Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines undergo urgent thermal-acoustic image inspections before returning to the skies.

Boeing has confirmed that there are currently 69 in-service 777 aircraft which are powered by this particular type of engine. These plane-engine combinations have drastically reduced the operating capacity of United Airlines, Korean Air, Asiana Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines.

While there are no South African airlines which own or operate Boeing 777 planes, this does not mean that travel to and from South Africa will be left unaffected by the recent grounding and inspection orders.

“It must be noted that there are no Boeing B777-200 aircraft on the South African Civil Aircraft Register,” clarifies Kabelo Ledwaba, communication manager for the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA).

“However, there are several foreign operators who have been issued with a Foreign Operator Permit [FOP] that allow them to operate these aircraft in the South African airspace.”

Foreign airlines which posses an FOP to operate in South Africa, as listed by SACAA, include:

  • Emirates
  • Saudi Airline
  • Air France
  • KLM
  • Turkish Airlines
  • Qatar Airways
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • Swiss International Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Egypt air
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Delta Airline
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • TAAG Angola Airlines

“Due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, most of these operators have suspended their operations into South Africa,” adds Ledwaba. Current travel bans and flight restrictions, particularly impacting South Africa as a result of the 501Y.V2 coronavirus variant which was first detected in the Eastern Cape, have reduced the total number of current FOP operators, as listed above, by more than 60%.

Current airlines identified by SACAA, which continue to service regular flights to and from South Africa, include:

  • Air France
  • Turkish Airlines
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • TAAG Angola Airlines
  • Qatar Airways
  • KLM

Additionally, Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa aircraft do still operate within South Africa but with a massively reduced frequency, catering mostly for freight and repatriations.

The Emergency Airworthiness Directive (AD) issued by the FAA has guided SACAA’s own approach to inspections on South African soil. Any Boeing 777 aircraft, which are operated by the abovementioned airlines and equipped with Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines, will be subjected to rigorous assessments when landing in South Africa.

“All operators [foreign or local] that operate in the South African airspace are expected to comply with the Emergency Airworthiness Directive that will be issued by the FAA,” says Ledwaba.

 “South Africa is in the process of issuing a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) in this regard, to highlight this requirement among the affected operators. As part of our oversight system, the SACAA will also be conducting safety oversight on foreign aircraft when any of this type of airframe-engine configuration lands in South Africa.”

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