1-30-18 8:51 PM EST | Email Article
By Andy Pasztor 

U.S. air-accident investigators have called for upgraded engine-inspection practices and better-coordinated procedures for passenger evacuations, in their final report about a fire that badly damaged an American Airlines Group Inc. jet on a Chicago runway two years ago.

The findings and recommendations released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday stem from an October 2016 accident in which a rare manufacturing defect caused part of the right engine on a Boeing Co. 767 bound for Miami to rupture violently late in the takeoff roll. Metal parts flew as far as 3,000 feet, a fuel leak caused a massive fire under the right wing and all 161 passengers used emergency slides to leave the jet.

There were no fatalities, but the NTSB issued industrywide recommendations for modernized engine inspections and stepped-up airline crew training to ensure safer emergency evacuations.

According to the NTSB, U.S. regulators haven't updated guidance on conducting emergency evacuations for three decades, despite several high-profile examples of problems getting passengers off airliners in just the past few years.

Investigators concluded that a rare manufacturing flaw dating back to the late 1990s -- and likely undetectable through recent years -- created microscopic cracks in the high-energy internal disc that eventually led to the accident at O'Hare International Airport. General Electric Co. manufactured the engines.

Even with significant safety advances in engines and overall airline performance over the last few decades, "there's still improvements that can be made," said Robert Sumwalt, the safety board's chairman. Inspection methods "that can fail to uncover a defect in a safety critical component of an airliner," he said, "need a closer look.:

Regarding the crew's response, the NTSB concluded that the pilots, after hearing a loud bang, acted appropriately to halt the takeoff and shut down the damaged engine. But the report was critical of the level of cooperation between the cockpit crew and flight attendants.

Investigators, among other things, found that flight attendants hadn't received adequate training on systems to communicate with the cockpit or passengers. Two attendants told the safety board they couldn't operate the intercoms to contact the pilots, as smoke billowed inside the cabin and passengers disregarded instructions by climbing over seats and insisting on grabbing carry-on bags.

With one of the wide-body jet's engines still running as the evacuation began, a passenger suffered a serious injury as he was hit by jet blast. The pilots told investigators the only emergency engine shut-off checklist they had didn't call for immediately turning off the remaining engine.

Modern jet turbines are designed to prevent broken parts from being spewed outside the engine cover. But violent disintegration of some internal parts has dogged certain models of GE's CF6-80 model engines since 2000, prompting a series of stepped-up safety actions by the manufacturer and the Federal Aviation Administration.

An FAA spokeswoman didn't have any immediate comment on the nonbinding safety recommendations.

American, which has revamped flight attendant training, told investigators the cabin crew took appropriate steps to initiate the evacuation despite communication difficulties.

Write to Andy Pasztor at andy.pasztor@wsj.com


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 30, 2018 20:51 ET (01:51 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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