Boeing Warns Airlines of Icing Issue with GE Engines

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On Friday The Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) notified customers for its 747-8 and 787 Dreamliner that planes equipped with the GEnx engine from General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) could have an icing problem if the planes flew too close to high-altitude thunderstorms. Japan Airlines (JAL) on Saturday said it would replace the  Dreamliners on two of its routes in the coming week.

Other airlines that could be affected include Lufthansa, United Continental Airlines Co. (NYSE: UAL), and Cathay Pacific, all of which fly the same routes on which JAL will switch out its planes. For now those routes are between Tokyo and Delhi and Tokyo and Singapore.

Since April six airplanes using the GEnx engines have temporarily lost thrust in high-altitude icing conditions according to a report at Bloomberg News. Ice crystals can build up behind the front engine fan causing a temporary loss of thrust. Five 747s and one 787 have reported loss of thrust at high altitude, but there have been no accidents reported as a result of the problem.

The temporary solution is to avoid flying within 50 nautical miles of a high-altitude thunderstorm, but GE said it is working on a software fix that it hopes will solve the issue. According to GE the number of commercial planes now in the air has led to an increased number of icing reports, particularly from tropical regions. We are to conclude then that this is not an engine problem but rather an act of God?

Another Japanese carrier, All Nippon Airways (ANA), also flies Dreamliners, but those planes use engines from Rolls Royce which have not experienced a similar icing problem.

ANA is Boeing’s largest customer for the Dreamliner and JAL is the aircraft maker’s second largest. Both were hit hard by the three-month grounding of the planes earlier this year due to a battery problem that caused cockpit fires.