Qantas grounds A380 fleet after mid-air emergency
Qantas has grounded its entire fleet of A380 Airbuses after an aircraft carrying more than 400 people was forced to make an emergency 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.
The pilot then informed the cabin that the engine had been shut down and the aircraft was heading back to Changi Airport.
The A380, carrying 433 passengers and 26 crew, circled for an hour dumping fuel before it landed safely at Changi at 11.45am local time.
Once on the tarmac, it appeared that casing from the aircraft's number two engine was missing and parts of the aircraft's underside were blackened.
The incident prompted Qantas to ground its all six of its A380s, the airline's flagship model, which are also flown by Air France, Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa.
When the Airbus was unveiled in 2005, it was hailed as the beginning of a new era in long haul air travel. Each double-decker A380 can carry up to 500 passengers and cut travel times from London to Sydney by several hours.
There have been no fatal incidents involving A380s since they were launched as the greenest, quietest – as well as the biggest – jetliner in the world.
However, earlier this year one of the planes operated by Qantas burst two tyres when landing in Sydney, and in September 2009 an A380 was forced to turn around in mid-flight and return to Paris.
The latest incident comes just days before Qantas was due to celebrate its 90th anniversary.
Alan Joyce, the chief executive of Australia's national carrier, said the airline had opened an investigation into what went wrong but in the meantime was taking no risks.
"We have decided that we will suspend all A380 take-offs until we're fully comfortable that sufficient information has been obtained about QF32," he said in Sydney.
"The A380 is a fantastic aircraft. This issue of an engine failure is one we have not seen before. We are obviously taking this very seriously, because it was a significant engine failure."
Rolls-Royce, which manufactures the engines, would be involved in the investigation, he said.
However, Mr Joyce said the incident would not affect pending orders for the aircraft.
"We have orders for over 20 aircraft. Those aircraft will continue to arrive," he said.
There are 37 A380s in service around the world, flying 26 routes.
Aviation experts have said that despite the fact that no one was injured during the incident, it was very serious.
Péter Marosszéky, senior visiting fellow in the Department of Aviation at the University of New South Wales, said it was "a fairly massive internal failure".
"This type of incident has been seen previously but it was a long time ago and with much older planes than the A380," he said.
"This is probably the most serious incident involving the A380 since it began flying in commercial service," said aviation expert Tom Ballantyne, chief correspondent of Orient Aviation magazine.
There was initial confusion after early reports said that the A380 Airbus had crashed in a western Indonesian town.
Witnesses said that they had heard a loud explosion as a Qantas aircraft flew overhead and pieces of fuselage were found on the ground.
Pictures of metal, some the size of a door bearing the red and white of the "flying kangaroo" logo, flashed on MetroTV, with people milling around.
"I heard a big explosion at around 9:15am and saw a commercial passenger plane flying low in the distance with smoke on one of its wings," Rusdi, a local resident, told MetroTV.
"The debris started falling on my house."
However, the Australian national carrier quickly denied that any of its planes had crashed, saying that QF32 had suffered engine problems and had been forced to turn around.
A passenger on-board the aircraft said there was a loud boom and a fire on the superjumbo's wing shortly after it took off.
"We heard the boom, I looked outside and saw a little bit of fire," Ulf Waschbusch, from Germany, said.
"Something ruptured the left wing, it was a small rupture," he said.
Qantas has never had a fatal jetliner accident in its 90-year history.
The incident took place as it emerged that Jetstar, Qantas's budget airline, had to divert one of its aircraft into Changi Airport earlier this week.
Jetstar Flight JQ 28 from Phuket to Sydney, operated by an Airbus A330-200 aircraft, was diverted without incident into Singapore Changi because of a problem with the autopilot.
Jetstar said that the aircraft, which was carrying 288 passengers, had "a normal landing" into Singapore.
The A330-200 aircraft is undergoing inspection by Jetstar engineers based in Singapore.
A spokesman for Lufthansa said it had no plans to ground its three A380 aircraft but that it would do so if advised of any concerns by the manufacturer.
An Airbus spokesman said the company would assist Singaporean authorities with their investigation.