Japan Airlines Co Ltd (JAL) said it had retired its fleet of 13 Boeing Co 777s with Pratt & Whitney engines a year earlier than planned, having suspended operations in February after an engine on a United Airlines plane shed debris.
“JAL has decided to accelerate the retirement of all P&W equipped Boeing 777 by March 2021, which (was) originally planned by March 2022,” the Japanese airline said on Monday in a notice on its website.
JAL said it would use newer Airbus SE A350s on domestic routes to Osaka’s Itami Airport and use planes that normally serve international destinations for other domestic routes to help maintain flight frequencies.
Flying demand industry-wide is currently lower than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Japanese carrier had an incident of its own with the PW4000 engines in December when a malfunction forced a Tokyo-bound JAL 777 to return to Naha airport.
The engines are found on only a small number of older 777s operated by JAL, United Airlines Holdings Inc, ANA Holdings Inc, Korean Air Lines Co Ltd, Asiana Airlines Inc and Jin Air Co Ltd.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in February ordered the immediate inspection of 777 planes with PW4000 engines before further flights after the National Transportation Safety Board found a cracked fan blade on the United flight was consistent with metal fatigue.
When metal fatigues, a crack can grow progressively longer each time it is stressed as the engine starts up. Such cracks can linger for years before they lead to failure.
The action was prompted by the violent failure of a fan blade on one of two engines mounted on a United Airlines plane, a Boeing Co 777-200. After the 40.5-inch (103-centimetre) blade snapped, it tore off another blade and the front structure of the engine, pelting a suburban neighbourhood with metal and other debris.
No one was hurt on the ground and the plane landed safely.
A spokeswoman for Pratt, owned by Raytheon Technologies Corp, in February, said fan blades would need to be shipped to its repair station in East Hartford, Connecticut, for inspection, including those from airlines in Japan and South Korea.
Analysts had said airlines might speed up the retirement of the planes as a result of the need for additional checks.
In March 2019, the FAA issued a directive on the same engines following a similar failure on a United jet flying from San Francisco to Hawaii on February 13, 2018.
It required that the fan blades be inspected before reaching a total of 7,000 flights. Once those were completed, operators had to repeat the inspections within the next 1,000 flights, according to the earlier directive.