General Electric said on Monday that it is close to a solution for engines that are losing power for a few seconds after ingesting ice chunks as big as a half-gallon.
The problem came to light over the weekend after Japan Airlines said it will stop using its new Boeing Co. 787s on some routes.
The problem has surfaced on about 400 GE engines used on some 787s and all Boeing 747-8s.
GE said it knows of six incidents since April where those engines lost thrust because of icing. The problem is that in some weather conditions, the engines take in ice crystals which then thaw and refreeze. Those ice chunks can grow to 2-4 pounds and eventually come loose and get sucked into the engine’s core.
GE said the engines lost power for around five seconds each time.
“If you were in the plane, you wouldn’t even notice it,” GE spokesman Rick Kennedy said.
The planes’ owners noticed. The ice chunks damaged at least one engine on a 747-8 freighter, Kennedy said, but all quickly regained power and the planes were able to land at their planned airport.
Boeing has told airlines not to fly the planes within 50 nautical miles of the kinds of storms that can lead to the ice chunks. On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration said it will issue a directive later this week to make sure pilots avoid the conditions as well.
GE said it has changed the software that runs the engines. It would detect the conditions that produce the icing and open a special door to send the ice chunk out through an outer part of the engine instead of its core. GE said it is “highly confident” that the fix will work.
GE said the software is being tested now and, if it’s approved by regulators, should be installed on most affected planes by the end of the year. The FAA said 14 U.S. planes are affected — seven 787s owned by United Continental Holdings Inc., and seven 747-8s operated by freight haulers.
General Electric Co. said the software fix takes about an hour to install and doesn’t require removal of the engine.
“We regret the business disruption this will cause for our customer and remain ready to provide whatever assistance we can to Japan Airlines,” Boeing said in a written statement on Monday.