Commercial airline accidents in the United States, while rare, can have devastating consequences. An engine failure and explosion onboard a United Airlines flight flying above the Denver metro area on Feb. 20, 2021, illustrates the potentially catastrophic nature of these types of incidents.
United Airlines engine explosion showers debris on Denver suburb
Just after takeoff from Denver International Airport, an engine on the United flight exploded. The blast occurred as the result of an engine fan blade breaking apart, ripping into the elements of the engine itself.
Large sections of the engine broke off and plummeted downward into the Denver suburb of Broomfield. Unlike some similar past commercial airplane accidents, no one was injured on the aircraft or on the ground. The plane was able to return to DIA to make an emergency landing.
United Airlines engine explosion increases pace of plane fan blade inspections
The Federal Aviation Administration was relatively quick to respond to the engine explosion. The FAA determined that all airplanes manufactured by Pratt & Whitney with hollow fan blades needed to be immediately inspected. As a consequence, 69 aircraft that were in use were grounded. In addition, another 59 airplanes that currently are listed as in storage were grounded as well. The outcomes of these inspections will determine whether or when certain aircraft will be able to return to use.
As far as aircraft outfitted with the engine at issue based in the United States, the only airline that has a fleet of this type of aircraft is United. The company announced that its entire fleet of this type of aircraft was parked. This included about 50% of the fleet that was in active use at the time of the recent engine explosion and 50% of the fleet that has been in storage, due to the decrease in air travel in recent months.
The National Transportation Safety Board is overseeing the comprehensive investigation into the United Airlines engine explosion. No time frame for completing the review has been established.