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Plane's engines draw investigators' attention

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Although it's too early to pinpoint any cause of the American Airlines crash Monday in New York, some investigators already are taking a closer look at the plane's General Electric engines.

An engine part from the Airbus A300 landed in a driveway of a house in Queens, and another part hit a gas station in the New York borough. Experts said such engine separations are rare and have never happened before to the GE engines.

"Looking at the video, it's pretty clear it doesn't seem to be a major charring to the engine," said David Field, Americas editor for Airline Business magazine.

"This suggests it's not an explosion within the engine core itself within the turbine. It suggests something forced the engine and pylon off the wing."

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The two engines differed greatly in the number of hours flown since their last overhaul. But experts said that this disparity is not unusual. American Airlines had done maintenance checks as recently as last month.

The CF6-80C2 is the workhorse of the GE fleet, powering more than 1,000 planes. Analysts said it boasts a strong safety record in its 17 years of service, and aviation insiders consider it one of the most reliable.

The GE CF6-80C2 engine is similar to ones powering the two 747s that fly as Air Force One carrying the president.

But the GE jet engine previously has raised safety concerns.

Less than a year ago, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a safety recommendation urging the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct a design review of the GE CF6-80C2 engines.

The recommendation followed an incident back in September 2000 when a U.S. Airways plane equipped with the same type of engine experienced a major failure during a high-power ground maintenance check in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In its recommendation, the NTSB said: "This incident raises serious safety concerns because, if it has occurred during flight rather than on the ground during maintenance, the airplane might not have been able to maintain safe flight."

In June, the FAA issued an airworthiness directive telling airlines to examine specific parts of the GE engine. A GE spokesman told CNN the company did re-examine the design of the engine but could find nothing to change.

The NTSB is heading the investigation of Monday's crash.

"They certainly will be looking at the location of the pieces of the engine, how many pieces they are, where they are, to get an early read on whether those engines left the aircraft in flight, whether they left the aircraft in pieces in flight," aviation expert Jim McKenna said.

CNN's Fred Katayama and Charles Feldman contributed to this report


• General Electric
• National Transportation Safety Board
• Federal Aviation Administration
• Airline Business Magazine

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