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Thu 11 Nov 2010 04:40 PM

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Airbus blowout traced to Rolls-Royce engine oil fire

Fire may have caused disintegration of the engine’s intermediate pressure turbine disc - regulator

Airbus blowout traced to Rolls-Royce engine oil fire
(AFP/Getty Images)
Airbus blowout traced to Rolls-Royce engine oil fire
Rolls-Royce engine
Airbus blowout traced to Rolls-Royce engine oil fire
(AFP/Getty Images)

An engine explosion on an Airbus SAS A380 operated by Qantas Airways was probably caused by an oil fire in one of the plane’s four Rolls-Royce Group Trent 900 turbines, the European Aviation Safety Agency said.

The fire may have caused the disintegration of the engine’s intermediate pressure turbine disc, according to an emergency airworthiness directive published Wednesday night by EASA instructing operators to check for “abnormal oil leakage” in all Trent 900s.

“This condition, if not detected, could ultimately result in uncontained engine failure, potentially leading to damage to the aeroplane and hazards to persons or property on the ground,” EASA said in the directive. The discovery of any discrepancy should “prohibit further engine operation,” the regulator said.

Qantas has grounded its six A380s following the engine explosion shortly after takeoff from Singapore on November 4, which forced an emergency landing and damaged the plane’s wing. Singapore Airlines Ltd. will take three of its 11 superjumbos out of service to change the turbines after finding “slight” oil staining and Germany’s Deutsche Lufthansa AG, the only other Trent 900 user, is replacing power plants on one jet.

Rolls-Royce, which said Nov. 8 that the problem is specific to the Trent 900 and plans to issue more details tomorrow in a trading statement, fell as much as 2 percent and was trading 0.3 percent lower at 586.5 pence as of 12:09 p.m. in London.

Airbus parent European Aeronautic, Defence & Space slipped 0.2 percent to 19.05 euros in Paris.

EASA’s instructions are an “interim action” according to the directive, as an ongoing investigation is underway.

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Sydney-based Qantas, Australia’s largest airline, kept its A380s grounded for an eighth day as it probes potential oil leaks found in three engines on three different aircraft.

While nobody was injured in the Qantas incident, Tim Clark, president of Dubai-based Emirates, the biggest A380 operator, says he’s concerned the superjumbo’s reputation might become “tarnished,” even though the Gulf carrier’s planes are powered by engines from General Electric Co. and Pratt & Whitney.

“One thing we will not allow is a contagion effect,” Clark said in an interview in London yesterday. “We’re concerned and watching very closely. And if we get lumped together then we will have to take some kind of action.”

Yan Derocles, an aviation analyst at Paris-based Oddo Securities, said previous experience indicates that all A380- operated flights are likely to experience a drop-off in demand.

“Most of the flying public isn’t even aware that there are two types of engine available on the A380,” he said. “Normally when you have incidents or accidents there’s an immediate impact on bookings, but soon after occupancy rates return to normal.”

EASA says A380 operators with Trent 900 engines must carry out an extended run at idle while on the ground. They should also inspect blades and the oil case drain in the engines’ low- pressure turbines and oil-service tubes and so-called air buffer cavities in the high- and intermediate-pressure structures.

Where an engine is mounted on a plane, the checks must be made within 10 flight cycles of the directive becoming effective yesterday, and then again at least every 20 cycles. If an engine is in a workshop it must be checked before the next flight.

Passengers have so far flocked to the A380, with its capacity for more than 500 seats and amenities including showers and closed off first-class cabins. More than 70 airports can handle the double-decker, with is 239 feet (73 meters) long with a 262-foot wingspan. Emirates has begun flying it to smaller hubs, including Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and Manchester, England.

Airbus, which is aiding the investigation into the Qantas engine, is confident that London-based Rolls-Royce will “find and correct the problem,” Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders told reporters in Berlin yesterday.

Production of the A380, designed to tap the lucrative long- haul market dominated for decades by Boeing Co.’s 747 jumbo, has been a drag on the planemaker since its maiden flight in 2005.

Mismatched software between German and French engineers led to faulty wiring, resulting in years of delays and cost overruns. Airbus also failed to build on an initial flow of orders, and the program won’t break even for several years.


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Manoj K Koshy 9 years ago

The reason for the explosion seems very strange - why has the said defect NOT detected by the maintenance crew till date with all sophisticated checks.