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ATSB leads investigation into Qantas A380 engine failure; B747 issue 'separate'

8-Nov-2010 8:06 AM

Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) announced (05-Nov-2010) it has arrived in Singapore to investigate Qantas' A380 engine issue, which occurred near Singapore on 04-Nov-2010. The aircraft's flight data and cockpit voice recorders have been recovered and returned to Australia. General Manager Aviation Safety Investigations Ian Sangston stated an investigation into the issue could take up to a year to complete, but a preliminary factual report will be available by 03-Dec-2010. The ATSB is working with its counterparts, including the Air Accident Investigation Bureau of Singapore (AAIB) and the Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC) to coordinate investigation activity. Representatives from the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), the French Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses (BEA), Airbus, Rolls Royce and Qantas are also involved, in accordance with international protocols. [more - Australian Transport Safety Bureau 1] [more - Australian Transport Safety Bureau 2]

Qantas stated (05-Nov-2010) it continues to work with Rolls-Royce and Airbus to fully understand the circumstances surrounding the engine failure ahead of taking the first steps toward to resuming operations. It is still too soon to be able to provide an indication of when this might be. All A380s remain grounded, as tests on the engines in Sydney and Los Angeles are continuing, following reports the carrier has found issues with three more Rolls-Royce engines in the A380 fleet and another two have been taken off for inspection (AAP, 07-Nov-2010/08-Nov-2010). Spokesperson Olivia Wirth stated the inspection “could be for a number of things”, including that they may not be able to inspect the engine in the aircraft. The carrier expects investigation results within days and still expect the A380s to the operational again in a matter of days, not weeks. CEO Alan Joyce attributed the issue to a mechanical or design fault, not maintenance concerns (Associated Press, 07-Nov-2010). Mr Joyce stated each engine would undergo eight hours of tests and no aircraft will return to operation until all checks are complete.

The carrier made (06-Nov-2010) updates to its scheduled services on 06-Nov-2010 and 07-Nov-2010 due to the grounding of its A380 fleet. The changes affected flights between Sydney and Singapore, Los Angeles, Frankfurt and Tokyo. The carrier stated it also continues to provide assistance to customers affected by the temporary suspension of A380 operations, with a B747-400 relief flight from Singapore arriving in Sydney at 20:45 on 05-Nov-2010. [more] [more]

Rolls-Royce stated (04-Nov-2010) in situations like these Rolls-Royce has well established processes to collect and understand information relating to the event and to determine suitable actions. The group stated it feels that it is prudent to recommend that a number of precautionary engine checks are performed to ensure continuous safe operation of the fleet. This process is now underway and coordinated with Airbus. It added it continue to work closely with our customers as the investigation moves forward. The company commented that this is at a very early stage and it would be inappropriate to draw any conclusions at this time. [more]

EADS CEO Louis Gallois stated the safety of Qantas’ A380 was never in question, as the aircraft is “certified to withstand events like the one suffered by Qantas” (Dow Jones, 05-Nov-2010).

European Aviation Safety Agency stated it advised all carriers in Aug-2010 to check their A380 engines after finding “wear, beyond engine manual limits” on the Rolls-Royce engines (Reuters, 05-Nov-2010). Mr Joyce reportedly dismissed the warning in Aug-2010, but denied the carrier was aware of any issue with the Trent engines (Dow Jones, 05-Nov-2010).

GE Aviation and Pratt & Whitney’s JV, the Engine Alliance, stated it is not advising customers to inspect their A380 engines as “our design is unique ... and thus has no correlation with the RR engine” (Reuters, 05-Nov-2010).

Qantas also suffered problems on a flight from Singapore to Sydney on 05-Nov-2010. The carrier stated the incident is unrelated to the A380 issue and is not believed to be a possible design fault, which would force it to ground its B747 fleet (ABC News, 06-Nov-2010). Mr Joyce described the incident as a “contained engine failure” (AAP, 06-Nov-2010). The engine was also manufactured by Rolls-Royce (Sydney Morning Herald, 07-Nov-2010). Mr Joyce added he does not believe the incident is the result of sabotage and that safety is Qantas’ first priority. 92% of aircraft maintenance is carried out in Australia, with the remainder outsourced to “the best” in the world, according to the CEO (AAP, 06-Nov-2010).

Mr Joyce strongly refuted (05-Nov-2010) claims by the Federal Secretary of the Australian Licenced Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA) that Qantas engineers had been stood down as a result of the A380 engine incident. Mr Joyce also confirmed that Qantas met all the requirements of two Airworthiness Directives (ADs) applying to the Trent 900 engine. [more]

Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and other carriers operating A380s with Trent 900 engines briefly grounded their fleets last week but have resumed services, following checks (Associated Press, 07-Nov-2010).

Qantas: “It is clearly too soon to speculate on the cause of yesterday’s engine failure. Regardless, Steve Purvinas continues to peddle prejudices and generalisations about aircraft maintenance and safety in the knowledge that his claims will more than likely go unchallenged. The engineers he has referred to in a number of media interviews today are employed by QantasLink in Brisbane and are involved in ongoing enterprise agreement negotiations. Six employees were directed not to attend work last week, on full pay, while a disciplinary matter is appropriately investigated. This has nothing to do with our A380 fleet. Mr Purvinas also continues to raise overseas aircraft maintenance as though this was something only Qantas was not allowed to pursue. The overwhelming majority of our aircraft maintenance is undertaken in Australia, and he knows this. We operate an international airline and aircraft that are manufactured overseas so it is inevitable some need to be serviced overseas and that has always been the case. The A380 involved in the Singapore incident recently underwent its first heavy maintenance check by Lufthansa Technik in Germany. Lufthansa is a leading international airline, a top tier engineering and maintenance provider and an operator of the A380 itself. Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines are overhauled at Rolls-Royce facilities. To suggest that Lufthansa and Rolls-Royce do not have the expertise and experience to undertake the highest quality aircraft and checks is ludicrous. All Mr Purvinas is interested in grabbing is a headline, regardless to the damage to the reputation of Qantas and its employees including members of his own union,” Alan Joyce, CEO. Source: Qantas, 05-Nov-2010.