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Thu 11 Nov 2010 12:48 PM

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Emirates urges A380 fixes to avoid Qantas 'contagion'

Engine explosion on Aussie carrier is an 'enormously big wake-up call', Tim Clark says

Emirates urges A380 fixes to avoid Qantas 'contagion'
Emirates president Tim Clark (ITP Images - for illustrative purposes only)

Emirates, the biggest operator of Airbus A380s, said the engine explosion last week on Qantas Airlines is an “enormously big wake-up call” to avoid another incident that would deter passengers from the world’s largest passenger jet.

One of four Rolls-Royce Group Trent 900 engines blew up on a Qantas A380 shortly after takeoff from Singapore on November 4, forcing an emergency landing and damaging a wing. The blast prompted Qantas to ground its fleet of A380s and two other carriers to switch engines. Emirates powers all its fleet of 14 A380s with turbines by General Electric and Pratt & Whitney.

“We’re concerned and watching very closely,” Emirates president Tim Clark said on Wednesday in an interview in London. “We really don’t want this aircraft tarnished with a reputation for failures in certain areas. One thing we will not allow is a contagion effect.”

Clark’s comments come as the European Aviation Safety Agency ordered airlines to perform mandatory inspection of Trent 900 engines used on A380s at regular intervals. Emirates has ordered 90 A380s in total as it banks on an aircraft that can connect any two dots on the globe with a single stopover in Dubai, where the airline is based. While Airbus SAS has struggled to bolster its order book for the A380, passengers have flocked to the jet, with its capacity for more than 500 seats and amenities including showers and closed off first-class cabins.

Sydney-based Qantas, Australia’s largest airline, kept its fleet of A380s grounded for an eighth day as it continues inspections of the engines and probes potential oil leaks found in three power plants. Rolls-Royce Group said the incident is isolated to Trent 900, designed specifically for the A380. Nobody was injured in the emergency landing of the Qantas jet.

Singapore Airlines Ltd. has 11 471-seat A380s in its fleet, all powered by Rolls-Royce. The company said on Wednesday that it planned to take three of the jets out of service for as long as 48 hours to change the engines, in a precautionary measure after “slight” oil staining was found. Deutsche Lufthansa AG, the only other user of the Trent 900, replaced an engine on one jet.

“Most of the flying public isn’t even aware that there are two types of engines available on the A380,” said Yan Derocles, an aviation analyst at Paris-based Oddo Securities. “But normally, when you have incidents or accidents, there’s an immediate impact on bookings, but soon after occupancy rates return to normal.”

Airbus, which is aiding the investigation to uncover the fault on the Qantas Trent 900 engine, is confident that Rolls- Royce will “find and correct the problem,” Tom Enders, Airbus chief executive, told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday.

“There’s no reason not to fly on the A380,” Enders said.

The A380 has been a drag on Airbus since the aircraft performed 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 its initial inflow of orders for the A380, and the program won’t break even for several years, according to the company.

More than 70 airports are equipped to handle the double- decker A380, which has a 262-foot (80-meter) wingspan and is 239 feet long. Emirates has begun flying the aircraft to smaller hubs, including daily services to Jeddah, the second-largest city in Saudi Arabia, as well as Manchester in northern England.

The A380, designed to tap into the lucrative long-haul market dominated for decades by Boeing Co.’s 747 jumbo, is now operated by five airlines. Rolls-Royce has picked up the majority of the carriers already using the aircraft, while Air France also opted for GE’s and Pratt’s Engine Alliance option.

How the faults on the A380s in the past week play out in the public mind will depend on the situation unfolding further, said Stephen Furlong, an analyst at Davy Stockbrokers in Dublin. Airlines’ ability to minimize disruptions and isolating the incident to Qantas will help avoid lasting damage to the A380 brand and keep travelers opting for the jet, he said.

Emirates president Clark urged Rolls-Royce to take “whatever remedial design action or quality gate action” to ensure a similar blowout doesn’t occur again. He didn’t say if the Qantas incident has affected bookings.

“And if we get lumped together then we will have to take some kind of action,” he said. “I hope it won’t come to that.”


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Christine B.Osborne 9 years ago

I have flown on more than 80 different international carriers and in my blog I extolled the virtues of the A380 following a long flight on Singapore Airlines LDN-SYD and return. You can see the post under Whispering Through the Skies so I am dismayed by an apparent and logically worrying fault on this aircraft. May it be quickly fixed as it is a fantastic plane but I hesitate to use it until we know precisely what caused the blow-out on the Qantas flight. Thank you.

Member British Guild of Travel Writers

Jon 9 years ago

@ Christine.

Your comment merely echoes the sentiment that Tim Clark was at pains to point out.

This is not an issue with the A380, but reckless reading and commenting like yours will only fuel fear of flying the aircraft.

The issue is the engine, not the aircraft, but uninformed flyers do not appreciate that Emirates operates its A380's with GE Pratt engines and not Rolls Royce, which is at fault with the Qantas incident