Boeing advised airlines on Friday about a risk of engine icing problems on its new 747-8 and 787 Dreamliner planes with engines made by General Electric, urging 15 carriers to avoid flying them near high-altitude thunderstorms.
The warning led Japan Airlines (JAL) to pull Boeing 787 Dreamliners from two international routes. Other affected airlines include Lufthansa, United Airlines — an arm of United Continental Holdings — and Cathay Pacific Airlines.
“Boeing and JAL share a commitment to the safety of passengers and crews on board our airplanes. We respect JAL’s decision to suspend some 787 service on specific routes,” a Boeing spokesman said.
The move followed six incidents from April to this month involving five 747-8s and one 787 when aircraft powered by General Electric’s GEnx engines suffered temporary loss of thrust while flying at high altitude.
The problem was caused by a buildup of ice crystals, initially just behind the front fan, and the ice then ran through the engine, a General Electric spokesman said, adding that all of the aircraft landed at their destinations safely.
Boeing on Friday issued a notice prohibiting the affected aircraft from flying at high attitude within 50 nautical miles of thunderstorms that may contain ice crystals.
Japan Airlines said on Saturday it will replace Dreamliners on its Tokyo to Delhi and Tokyo to Singapore flights with other types of aircraft while also dropping a plan to use 787s for its Tokyo to Sydney route from next month.
JAL will continue to fly 787s for other international routes, which are unlikely to be affected by cumulonimbus clouds for the time being, a company spokesman said.
“The aviation industry is experiencing a growing number of ice-crystal icing encounters in recent years as the population of large commercial airliners has grown, particularly in tropical regions of the world,” the General Electric spokesman said.
General Electric and Boeing are working on software modifications to the engine control system, which they hope will eliminate the problem, he added.
The 787 can be powered by either GEnx engines or rival Trent 1000 engines made by Rolls-Royce PLC, while the 747-8 is powered exclusively by the General Electric engine model.