JAL suspends 777-200/300 operations


Japan Airlines 777-200 (registration JA8978)
Japan Airlines 777-200 (registration JA8978). Image by Japan Airlines

Following the incident United Airlines Boeing 777 engine failure incident on February 20 2021, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) of Japan has issued an order to suspend the operations of Boeing 777 equipped with the same Pratt & Whitney (P&W) manufactured engines on UA's 777, which went into effect on February 21 JST. 

The order affects both Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA) which operates 13 and 19 777 with the same engine respectively. Both airlines only operate these flights on its domestic network. As a result, JAL had to cancel flight JL914 from Okinawa Naha (OKA) to Tokyo Haneda (HND), and delayed flight JL916 from Okinawa Naha (OKA) to Tokyo Haneda (HND) and flight JL2087 from Osaka Itami (ITM) to Tokyo Haneda (HND) on February 21. 

For the time being, JAL will substitute with different aircrafts. But since JAL's domestic 777-200 and 777-300 are one of the most densely configured aircrafts in its fleet, this will result in reduction of capacity. For the economy cabin, it was not such a big deal as the load factor was low due to the ongoing pandemic. But for Class J and Domestic First Class, there is a significant loss of premium cabin capacity, and for some cases, Domestic First Class will not even be offered on the flight at all. 

JAL has substituted some of the domestic 777 flights with the international configured 777 with First Class cabin
JAL has substituted some of the domestic 777 flights with the international configured 777 with First Class cabin. Image from FlightStats.

But the good news is, JAL was substituting some of these flight with international configured 777s. And it's not just the 777-200ER with SKY SUITE, JAL had operated flights between Tokyo Haneda (HND) and Okinawa Naha (OKA) with the 4-class configured 777-3000ER. Yes, that's the one with JAL Suite, i.e. the international First Class. And JAL was only using the First Class cabin as Class J. So up to 8 lucky passengers per flight can be upgraded to the First Class cabin by paying just JPY1,000 surcharge!!! That's a steal for a 2.5-3 hours flight!

Prior to the United Airlines incident, JAL also had an engine related incident on December 4 2020. The left engine on flight JL904 from Okinawa Naha (OKA) to Tokyo Haneda (HND) failed and ripped off the acmes doors. The flight was operated with JA8978, also a Boeing 777-200 equipped with P&W engine. The plane safely returned to Naha Airport. Later they found that one of the fan blades was damaged at the root. After the incident, MLIT had ordered an emergency inspection on the Boeing 777 fleet with P&W engines but no issues were found by either of JAL or ANA. Since then, MLIT has instructed both carriers to double the fan blade inspection frequency on the P&W equipped 777 fleet to every 3,250 cycles. 

Given the previous incident, JAL tried to make a distinction on its international and domestic 777 fleet and stressed the international 777 fleet which JAL still operates are equipped with engines from GE and the GE fan blades are made of carbon-fiber which is structurally different from the P&W's. 

For the international fleet, JAL features nine Boeing 777-200ER and thirteen Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, which are equipped with GE manufactured engines and are not part of the mandate.    As reference, the P&W manufactured fan blades are made of titanium, whereas GE features carbon-fiber composite material, which are structurally different in design. As of today, there are no known reports of any failures involving GE fan blades in the industry.    As the safety of our customers and employees are of utmost importance, we ask for your understanding for any inconvenience this decision may cause. 

According to MLIT, it will closely monitor the NTSB investigation and decide on if there are any additional measures needed.



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