Qantas A380 emergency is third scare for superjumbo
Published 04/11/2010 | 16:00
A mid-air emergency on an Airbus superjumbo is the third time an A380 powered by a Rolls-Royce engine has encountered problems during a flight, it has been revealed.
Qantas, the Australian airline, grounded its entire fleet of A380 Airbuses after an aircraft carrying more than 400 people was forced to make an unscheduled landing when part of one of its engines disintegrated over Indonesia.
The flight, which originated in London and was destined for Sydney, was abandoned 15 minutes after take-off from Singapore when passengers heard a loud bang and saw smoke and sparks coming out of one engine.
Debris was scattered on the Indonesian island of Batam, but the aircraft was landed safely back at Singapore after circling to dump fuel.
Passengers spoke of feeling “lucky to be alive” after the ordeal which they likened to a “Hollywood movie”.
It is the third emergency involving as A380, the world's largest commercial airliner, powered Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines.
In August a Lufthansa superjumbo flying from Tokyo to Frankfurt was forced to shut down one of its four Trent 900 engines shortly before landing, after crew detected a change in oil pressure.
They did so as a precaution, rather than risk further damage to the engine which was later replaced.
And in September last year another Rolls Royce powered A380, this time operated by Singapore Airlines, was forced to turn back two hours and 45 minutes after leaving Paris on a flight to the Far East, because of an engine malfunction.
Of the 37 A380s currently in the air, 20 are equipped with the Trent 900. They are operated by Singapore, Qantas and Lufthansa, who now have all reported problems.
The remaining aircraft are powered by Engine Alliance, a 50/50 joint venture between GE Aircraft Engines and Pratt & Whitney. They are understood not to have been involved in any airborne emergency.
In addition the British Airways Boeing 777 which crash landed at Heathrow in January 2008 was also powered by a different Rolls Royce, this time the Trent 800.
Investigators later found that the engine lost power because of constriction of the fuel supply after the aircraft flew through abnormally cold conditions between Beijing and London.
Rolls Royce declined to comment on the latest incident involving its engines or the fact that there had been two previous incidents.
However the company's shares fell sharply in London after details of the Qantas incident emerged.
Following the Qantas incident, Singapore Airlines said flights would be delayed while its Airbus A 380 fleet underwent further checks.
Meanwhile investigators were flying to the inspect the debris to try to ascertain why parts of the engine fell off in mid flight.
This issue, an engine failure, has been one that we haven't seen before," says Alan Joyce, chief executive of Qantas. "So we are obviously taking it very seriously, because it is a significant engine failure"
Airbus said that preliminary reports indicated “engine failure” after take-off from Singapore.
“Airbus will provide full technical assistance to the French BEA as well as to the Australian authorities who will be responsible for the accident investigation,” the manufacturer said in a statement.
“A team of specialists from Airbus is being dispatched to Singapore.”
Meanwhile it also emerged that the same aircraft, the “Nancy-Bird Walton”, was involved in a minor emergency at London’s Heathrow in July last year. The pilot was forced to abort a landing after detecting problems with part of its ground steering system.
A full emergency was declared by control, but after circling the airport, the aircraft landed safely. A vehicle was sent out to tow it to the apron, shutting down the runway for about 25 minutes.
Named after the late Australian women’s aviation pioneer Nancy-Bird Walton, who died at the age of 93 last year, the aircraft was Qantas’s first A380 and went into service in late 2008.