Investigator on site to probe cause of 787 engine failure in N. Charleston

This GE engine on the first Boeing 787 made in South Carolina is the same version as the one that sparked a fire Saturday.

Boeing South Carolina said a representative from the National Transportation Safety Board was at its North Charleston campus today to investigate the cause of a 787 malfunction that shut down Charleston International Airport for more than an hour Saturday.

The Post and Courier reported Saturday that debris from one of the jet’s two engines fell onto the runway and sparked a fire in a nearby grassy area.

Experts said the NTSB probe will focus on several potential causes: a design flaw, human error or damage from a loose foreign object.

“The investigation obviously, number one, has to determine what happened, then, number two, why it happened,” said Scott Hamilton of Issaquah, Wash.-based aviation consulting firm Leeham Co.

Boeing South Carolina spokeswoman Candy Eslinger confirmed that the NTSB was at the plant today, but she said she could not elaborate.

“Because ... the NTSB is still gathering information about the incident, there’s not a lot more information that we can release,” she said.

Eslinger also said production at the North Charleston factory has not been affected.

She referred questions about the scope of the investigation to the safety panel.

“We are gathering information at this time,” said NTSB spokesman Terry Williams. “Our investigator arrived on scene yesterday and we have our first full day on the scene today. We don’t have any other information to release at this time.”

The plane is equipped with General Electric’s GEnx-1B engines, which are manufactured in Ohio. The failed engine will be disassembled.

Rick Kennedy, a spokesman for GE Aviation, said debris exited the back of the engine. He also said the incident is being approached as an isolated event. About 80 airplanes are flying with the GEnx-1B and they remain in service.

“This is not being viewed as a fleet issue,” Kennedy said.

He said the engine has been highly reliable.

“Until we have an opportunity to tear the engine down and see what happened, there isn’t much else to tell,” Kennedy said.

The engine was introduced last year and “is the fastest-selling engine in GE Aviation history with close to 1,300 engines on order,” GE said earlier this month.

A flight crew was testing the newly built plane and its engines at the time of the mishap.

The jet in question is the second 787 Dreamliner to be assembled in North Charleston. Known as Line Number 54 internally, it rolled out of the factory a month ago and had been parked on the nearby flight line until Saturday’s aborted preflight test.

The plane was built for Air India, which has yet to pick up its first 787 from the local plant. No delivery date has been set, but Saturday’s incident likely adds a new wrinkle to the already-delayed schedule.

See Tuesday’s editions of The Post and Courier for more details.