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caption: A Boeing employee walks out of the Boeing Renton Factory after shift change on Monday, December 16, 2019, in Renton.
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A Boeing employee walks out of the Boeing Renton Factory after shift change on Monday, December 16, 2019, in Renton.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Engine trouble on old 777s will have 'minimal' impact on Boeing, says industry expert

All older Boeing 777 models are essentially grounded, after an engine explosion rained debris down on a Colorado suburb.

The Federal Aviation Administration has now ordered inspections of Boeing 777-200s equipped with certain older Pratt & Whitney engines.

It's just the latest headache for Boeing. But what effect could the FAA's order — and images of the smoking engine and parts in people's yards — actually have on the company?

RELATED: United grounds 777s after engine explosion

"Obviously, these are some difficult images to process. You suddenly see debris coming out the back of an aircraft engine — you know, that's scary," said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace industry analyst with the Teal Group. "But in terms of the total impact to the company? Minimal."

The 777 in question was carrying a United Airlines flight from Denver International Airport to Honolulu on Saturday. The aircraft experienced an engine failure shortly after takeoff, bursting into flames, and sending debris falling to the ground.

The crew was able to make an emergency landing at the Denver International Airport without injuries to anyone on board. No injuries have been reported on the ground.

The engine that exploded was made by Pratt & Whitney. United Airlines is the only U.S. operator with that model in its fleet. The airline has grounded 24 planes that use the engine.

"It's pretty clear that given the age of the aircraft, this is almost certainly a maintenance question rather than a substantial design question," Aboulafia said, noting that United Airlines was the launch customer for the 777, meaning that the plane is likely "well into the 20s" when it comes to how old it is.

Aboulafia also noted Boeing did not build the engine that failed.

Hear Aboulafia's full interview with KUOW's Angela King by clicking the audio above.