FAA will allow Boeing 777 aircraft with suspect parts to stay aloft

Boeing (BA) 777 aircraft engines can ice up and stop working. The engines in question are made by Rolls-Royce, and although the problem is very rare, it is dangerous. The 777 is used for very long trips, often over oceans. According to The Wall Street Journal, "The FAA rejected recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board to order affected Boeing 777 operators to swiftly replace parts on at least one of the two engines on each aircraft."

The decision is an example of how commercial issues often trump safety. At least 130 777s would be affected by the part replacement program, and right now there are not enough parts to go around to fix all the engines. The FAA is allowing airlines to fly the 777 long distances until January 2011.

The news will likely cause concern among air travelers because a regulatory agency seems to have acted in a way that places more importance on company profits than on passenger safety. But the FDA has been doing this for years; drugs often come to market with safety labels about the small chances of severe side effects. The agency's argument is that the pharma products do a great deal of good, which needs to be weighed against very occasional harm.

The 777 is a large plane that carries well over 200 people. It only takes one fatal crash to prove that the FAA action posed a risk that was unacceptable, however reasonable the decision seemed at the time.

Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.

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