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QF32 engine failure 'potentially catastrophic', says ATSB report

3-Dec-2010 8:11 AM

Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) issued (02-Dec-2010) a safety recommendation and released (03-Dec-2010) a preliminary investigation about potential engine problems in some A380 aircraft. The report identifies an overspeed-related failure in the intermediate pressure turbine disc in the aircraft's No 2 engine. Sections of the fractured disc and other engine components penetrated the aircraft's left wing and a number of other areas on the aircraft, resulting in significant structural and systems damage to the aircraft. The safety recommendation identifies a potential manufacturing defect with an oil tube connection to the high-pressure (HP)/intermediate-pressure (IP) bearing structure of the Trent 900 engine. The problem relates to the potential for misaligned oil pipe counter-boring, which could lead to fatigue cracking, oil leakage and potential engine failure from an oil fire within the HP/IP bearing buffer space. In response to the recommendation, Rolls-Royce, affected airlines and safety regulators are taking action to ensure the continued safe operation of A380 aircraft. The action involves the close inspection of affected engines and the removal from service of any engine which displays the suspected counter-boring problem. The ATSB’s recommendation is that these one-off inspections be conducted within two flight cycles, which provides a level of inspection over and above the current 20 cycle inspection required by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan described the incident as a “critical safety issue” (euronews, 02-Dec-2010). A final report on the incident is to be issued within a year of the incident. [more - safety recommendation press release] [more - safety recommendation report] [more - preliminary report] [more - description of incident]

Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority also issued a direction to Qantas to conduct a further inspection of the Trent 900 engines on its A380 aircraft, to inspect the oil filler tube that feeds oil to the engine's high pressure/intermediate pressure bearing structure. Qantas engineers will be looking for any sign of the wall of the tube being out of tolerance and reduced in thickness, which could cause the tube to crack and leak oil. CASA continues to liaise closely with Qantas, the EASA, Rolls-Royce, Airbus and the ATSB. [more]

Qantas welcomed (03-Dec-2010) the ATSB preliminary report. The aircraft involved in the QF32 incident will remain in Singapore for some time while Airbus develops and then undertakes a significant repair programme. Sixteen Qantas engines require either modification to the latest standard or full replacement. Five of these have been replaced to date and all Airworthiness Directive and CASA requirements are being met. The carrier stated it will continue to operate a full international and domestic schedule and expects to make further announcements about the return to service of more A380s, before Christmas. In addition to the two aircraft that are back in service, two new A380s will be delivered and enter service in coming weeks, and another two are due for delivery in early 2011. [more]

The carrier also announced (02-Dec-2010) it will conduct further, more detailed one-off inspections of the Trent 900 engines on its A380 aircraft. After discussions with the ATSB and Rolls-Royce, it was decided it was prudent to conduct further inspections of engine components, although there is no immediate risk to flight safety. This is in line with Qantas’ conservative, safety-first approach. Qantas has two A380 aircraft in operational service, following the grounding of the fleet on 04-Nov-2010. Both A380 aircraft will be inspected at the Qantas Jet Base in Sydney. Inspections commenced on 02-Dec-2010 on the ‘B’ series engines (Sydney Morning Herald, 02-Dec-2010). Rolls-Royce has advised Qantas the most recent ‘C’ series engines are not affected. Qantas will determine any further response after it has finalised the inspection regime and consulted with both regulators and the manufacturer. Qantas does not anticipate at this stage that the inspections will have an impact on international services, however contingency arrangements will be in place, if needed. Spokesperson Olivia Wirth stated Qantas is eager to return to business as normal (ABC News, 03-Dec-2010). [more]

The carrier also announced (02-Dec-2010) it has commenced discussions with Rolls-Royce on a range of issues concerning the A380 fleet, including financial and operational impacts, as a consequence of the 04-Nov-2010 incident, and will also consider legal options. The airline has filed a statement of claim and been granted an injunction by the Federal Court of Australia which will ensure that the company can pursue legal action against Rolls-Royce in Australia, particularly under the Trade Practices Act, if a commercial settlement is not possible. The action allows Qantas to keep all options available to the company to recover losses, as a result of the grounding of the A380 fleet and the operational constraints currently imposed on A380 services. Qantas stated it remains committed to working with Rolls-Royce on the Trent 900 inspection programme, in consultation with Airbus and CASA. CEO Alan Joyce stated Rolls-Royce has been "very apologetic throughout" the ongoing issue (The Australian Financial Review, 03-Dec-2010). [more]

Rolls-Royce stated the ATSB’s recommendation is “consistent with that we’ve said before” (ABC News, 03-Dec-2010). Rolls-Royce CFO Andrew Shilston stated it will inspect and fix all Trent 900 engines by the end of 2011 (Bloomberg, 02-Dec-2010). Mr Shilston stated fixing the engines requires replacing “a small component inside the engine that’s not costly”. The company will also shorten the recommended length of time before the part will need to be replaced. The CFO also stated analyst estimated that the repairs will cost Rolls-Royce approximately USD78 million are “about” accurate for 2010. The majority of expenses are to be incurred this year.

Airbus stated it will work closely with ATSB, customers and Rolls-Royce to minimise any disruptions to A380 operations (Dow Jones, 02-Dec-2010). The company stated it will replace engines on new A380s scheduled for completion in 2011 to maintain delivery targets (Associated Press, 02-Dec-2010). COO John Leahy stated it is “on track” to deliver the new A380s to Qantas this month. It hopes to deliver a further 20 new A380s internationally next year. Airbus confirmed the new versions of the Trent 900s will not suffer oil leaks and Rolls-Royce is equipping the engines with software that will shut down the motor with leaking oil. Mr Leahy stated Airbus was not aware of the oil leaks “until the engine blew up” in the 04-Nov-2010 Qantas incident.

Singapore Airlines stated it has been complying with inspection recommendations from EASA and Rolls-Royce for its Trent 900 engines and the latest advisory is “really nothing new” (Channel News Asia, 02-Dec-2010). The inspections are not expected to affect its operating schedule. Alternative aircraft will be deployed on A380 routes to/from Sydney and Melbourne until 16-Dec-2010, with supplementary flights also to be operated while inspections take place. The carrier stated that if the issue is “a manufacturing defect, that it could be isolated to just that one Qantas engine” (The New York Times, 02-Dec-2010). SIA declined to comment on whether it will seek compensation from Rolls-Royce, stating its focus at present is on the engine checks. Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) stating it is closely tracking SIA to ensure it conforms with safety directives.

Lufthansa is also making further checks to its Trent 900 engines (Reuters, 02-Dec-2010).

European Aviation Safety Authority stated it has no plans to revise its airworthiness directive made on 23-Nov-2010 for carriers to focus their inspections on the oil service tubes.

ATSB: “We have described the potential engine failure as 'potentially catastrophic'. That’s when bits of the engine fly out rather than being contained within the engine. So, if the ‘catastrophic’ word is what you’re asking about, that relates to what might happen to the engine if the problem’s not fixed,” Martin Dolan, Chief Commissioner. Source: euronews, 02-Dec-2010.

Qantas: “We are in a position where we are starting to talk to to them about where this ends up, and where it goes, and that dialogue will continue. There's no doubt in Rolls's mind, in our minds and now in the ATSB's mind that the reason why this occurred is a design or manufacturing problem. We knew that one of the oil tubes had developed cracking. That cracking had led to oil leaking into this [turbine] part of the engine. The oil in that part of the engine caused an oil fire. That led to the explosion of the engine,” Alan Joyce, CEO. Source: The Age, 03-Dec-2010.

Qantas: “What we do know is that we have run a very intensive programme on these engines and that we don't expect there will be any further problems,” Olivia Wirth, Spokesperson.

Airbus: “There will be some engine swapping going on. The new standards of the engines don't seem to have the problems that the older engines from Rolls Royce had. It's inconvenient. Rolls Royce seems to have identified the problem and is fixing it,” John Leahy, COO. Source: Associated Press, 02-Dec-2010.

European Aviation Safety Authority: “The recommendation of the ATSB is welcome because it will provide us with additional data. But at this point we consider that the safety of the engine is ensured by the requirements of the existing directive. The evidence seems indeed to be pointing to an issue related to the manufacturing process — at least with this one particular engine — and this is precisely why the additional one-off inspections are needed. It is very difficult at this time to jump to a conclusion of a manufacturing problem affecting the entire fleet [of Trent 900s],” Dominique Fouda, Spokesperson. Source: The New York Times, 02-Dec-2010.