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A United 777 at Dulles International Airport. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Craig Fischer)

FAA Clears 52 United 777-200’s to Fly, Bolstering Airline’s Fleet Before Busy Summer

United Airlines said on Tuesday that the Federal Aviation Administration has cleared 52 of United’s Boeing 777-200 aircraft operating with Pratt & Whitney PW400 engines after over a year of standstill after the type was grounded following an accident in February 2021. 

On Feb. 20, 2021, a fan blade inside a PW400 engine on a United 777-200 operating from Denver to Maui failed, causing the engine cowling to come off and come crashing down in areas surrounding Denver, nearly striking a home. The aircraft fortunately was able to return safely to Denver Airport with everyone onboard shaken but unharmed. 

What It Means for United

United chief commercial officer Andrew Nocella said at a Bank of America conference, “The planes represent 10% of United’s capacity, so it’s really, really material.”

The 777-200 with the PW400 engine configuration is a crucial piece of United’s domestic operations. Used on many of United’s U.S. mainland to Hawaii routes as well as high density business routes such as New York (Newark) to Chicago O’Hare, the airline features prominently in the airline’s operations, or at least it had until 2021.

For United, the return of the domestic 777 is monumental in their push to meet their summer objectives and remain competitive in the United States domestic travel sector. United was forced to announce some summer flight reductions earlier in the month due to a lack of capacity and it’s clear from Nocella’s remarks that this could not have come at a better time.

According to Reuters, in an effort to speed up the process that the FAA underwent to recertify the aircraft as airworthy, United made a push to lawmakers stating that over 1 million passengers could be affected over the course of the summer as United ramps up capacity. The summer months of 2022 are likely to be some of the busiest on record in recent years as much of the world looks to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic that at one point nearly brought air travel to a complete halt. 

United’s High Density 777s

These domestic 777’s are configured in an unusual configuration for a legacy carrier like United but they serve a similar purpose to American Airlines’ domestic widebody fleet: move large numbers of people from one major destination to another with few frills. United’s domestic 777’s feature 336 economy seats with 234 in standard economy and 102 in United Economy Plus. At the front of the aircraft are 28 of United’s domestic first class seats.

This premium product is in fact United Airlines’ old flagship first class seat seen more commonly in the early years of the 777 and Boeing 747. While United has retrofitted these aircraft with more modern economy seats with a 3-4-3 configuration, they have chosen to leave the first class product untouched.

While it may make for a much better premium experience, especially on flights to and from Hawaii, it is clear that the domestic 777-200’s are all about density and less about passenger experience. 

Nocella says United will restart operations on the aircraft as soon as May 26, 2022. 

Author

  • Ezra Gollan is a student, photographer and aviation enthusiast based in New York, New York. He has spent over half a decade around New York City’s airports as a photographer.

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