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Rolls-Royce under fire from all parties over A380 engines

Airbus is seeking compensation from Rolls-Royce for the additional costs it is incurring because of the serious issues that have emerged with the Trent 900 engine used by Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa on their A380 fleets.

It is also under siege over its failure to tell the airlines and Airbus over changes it made to the engine.

The Airbus compensation claim, and some observations made by Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce in Sydney yesterday make for ‘untidy’ reading, but it is reasonable to say that ‘total care no information’ arrangements made for the overall management of engines and their major overhaul and maintenance by ANY engine manufacturer are in the firing line from now on.

In short, Joyce said Rolls-Royce made two sets of changes to the Trent 900s without telling the airlines or Airbus. He made those comments, at a press conference about improved meals for domestic Qantas passengers of all places, around 21 hours before the Airbus compensation claim became public knowledge.

In an Associated Press story Joyce is reported as follows:

“Rolls-Royce have gone and modified certain parts of this engine,” he said. “If this was significant and was known to be significant, we would have liked to have known about that … We and Airbus weren’t aware of it.

“But it depends on what the purpose of modifications were for,” Joyce added. “It doesn’t look like it’s a significant modification, but it is a modification that has an impact on how the engines are performing. And it is a modification that indicates whether you are going to have a problem or not with the engine.”

Curiously, on November 12, Airbus COO John Leahy, was unanimously reported by those attending a press conference in Sydney as saying essentially the same thing, that Rolls-Royce had fixed the issues in new builds of the engine that were appearing on the production line before the disintegration of engine No 2 on QF32 over Batam Island on November 4, an incident that caused immense damage to the very first A380 to enter Qantas service, and imperilled the lives of the 466 person onboard.

Within hours Airbus media relations was insisting that everyone was wrong, and the Leahy didn’t say what everyone in the room heard him say, which was what Joyce also said yesterday.

(I was on my way back to Canberra from a speaking engagement in Perth, and unable to attend the conference.)

We can now conclude that the gloves are off at Airbus, just as they have been at Qantas, ever since its operations centre was confronted with the most serious incident involving a Qantas jet since the QF 1 crash of a 747-400 at Bangkok’s Don Muang airport on September 23, 1999.

Rolls-Royce had introduced two sets of changes to its Trent 900 builds without telling the users the what fors or why fors. Airbus was under no doubt that these changes removed the problem that had destroyed the Qantas engine.

Only Rolls-Royce can tell us if this was serendipity on its part, some minor, regular, perfectly normal ‘tweak’ that just so happened to solve a problem that it didn’t know about, or something with a more clearly defined purpose, but which was nevertheless of insufficient importance to bring to the attention of Qantas and others.

Whatever the explanation, it is going to have to be revealed, whether by legal discovery, or voluntary disclosure.

One of the clearer reports on the situation appeared on the San Francisco Examiner website earlier this morning Australian time. It pulls in the situation at Lufthansa, and drives another nail through various earlier attempts to put this story back into a box in which it no longer fits.

Nancy-Bird Walton not for scrapping

There has been a rumour in circulation that the damage to the Qantas A380, the first one in its fleet, named Nancy-Bird Walton is so severe it is likely to be scrapped. This has been categorically denied by Qantas. The jet will be repaired at Singapore, and return to the skies.

The same rumour says the pilots were confronted by messages and handling issues they had never seen in an A380 before. Well, with pieces of the engine sticking through the wing, half the hydraulics gone, leaking fuel, and an engine that couldn’t be shut down, who would have thought….!

There is no doubting the serious of the control situation, or the investigation into them, and the issue of maintaining stable or balanced flight without the usual ability to transfer fuel between tanks, but going tabloid over them isn’t going to change or improve the outcomes of a very patient and searching inquiry.

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  • 1
    mook schanker
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    The cause of the incident will have to be revealed; design fault, modification, maintenance or otherwise if Qantas I assume to enact performance payments/penalties onto Airbus who will then put them onto Rolls Royce….Grounded fleet ticking by every day can get pretty exey…

  • 2
    Uwe
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    LH is armpit deep into their planes ( via LH Technik ) afaik.
    Do they do their Trent servicing inhouse ( again via LH Technik,
    I know that LH Technik does heavy rebuilding of jet engines in Hamburg )

    If yes would this indicate that at least LH was in the know over changes
    to the T900 engine ( and have the undated version anyway ) ?

  • 3
    errolwi
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    If yes would this indicate that at least LH was in the know over changes
    to the T900 engine ( and have the undated version anyway ) ?

    Or the fix is in unannounced changes between batches of RR supplied parts and/or unannounced software changes?

  • 4
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Question from an idiot when it comes to aviation Can Lufthansa, SingAir and RyanAir – I mean Qantas swap the Rolls engine for the other type? Or is it all wired very very very differently. I.E the engines in the Emirates A380′s. . . ??

  • 5
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    deccles,

    There are no idiotic questions in life. But there is in my opinion, some idiocy in not asking questions, especially by reporters like myself! The alternative engine is not practicable on a jet set up for the Rolls-Royce engines. Very costly changes to the physical, electrical and computer driven structures of the jet would be required.

    It is interesting that the 787 has been designed to allow practicable interchangeability between RR and GE engines, not a mix, but as a change of one set for another set by, say, a leasing company which might find the flexibility of offering either power plant to an airline client useful.

    The only catch at the moment is of course the continuing delays to the overall 787 program.

  • 6
    Zortiander
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Ben,

    why do you say that you couldn’t transfer fuel from one tank to the other? Was the cross-feed valve damaged? Close to the airport, procedure should be to cross-balance fuel, even if it means losing it; similar to what the pilots of the old DHL that was shot over bagdad had been doing (although, they, for different reasons: they just wanted to keep the engine running …).

    Deccles,

    maybe one thing to keep in mind is also that engine costs roughly make up 1/3rd of the airplane costs, meaning that engine switches are very costly just by parts cost (not to mention spare parts and of course, as Ben rightly said, the changes in the airplane).

  • 7
    eclectic eel
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    It will be interesting to know the exact nature of the engine failure. It’s obviously more serious than a turbine blade shearing off. What bits entered the wing and fuselage? The cowling is supposed to contain these events but has it been blown apart by a chemical explosion or just by a mechanical failure?

    Certainly all on board have been lucky to survive with a the fuel-containing wings punctured by the shrapnel.

  • 8
    Zortiander
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Eclectic, the cowling is supposed to hold off blades and small fragments; there is no protection against disks or fragments of disks coming lose, as these can be considered to have infinite energy when compared to the structural resistance of the airframe. So no wonder the disks (afaik 3 fragments) went right through – luckily they didn’t go through a passenger.

  • 9
    Uwe
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    Ben,
    afaik commonality between different engines hung has been very high to start with at Airbus ( much higher than Boeing and they don’t shove a ton of shims into their planes either ;-) .

    One A380 has got the engine make changed. Common Interface is either wing::pylon or
    pylon::engine. no idea.
    But as another poster observed it does not make sense to put so much value in storage.

    Boeing originally advertised that engine make changes would not take more than to hang
    another engine of the same type: “24″ ( hours, CI @ pylon::engine ) .

    From what has transpired over the lagging nagging years gone by CI now is wing::engine and it takes at least a fourtnight ( @ 1 shift / 3 shift ??)

    So they seem to be about where Airbus was in the past. Boeing is very consistent in that respect : promise big … ;-)

  • 10
    Smithee
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    As soon as one of these monsters crashes it will be the end of Airbus and the A380. It will kill so many people it will instantly be the number one air disaster. Too big.

  • 11
    Uwe
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    eclectic eel,
    there is mandated provision for containing loss of blades,
    especially the first set you see from the front.
    The “carrier disk” ( in this case a 600mm washer shaped massive disk
    rotating at ~10000 turns / min) is supposed to be designed for “nofail”.
    In the case of theory and reality not matching up energy release from
    the fragments is to be assumed “infinite” and the design should be able
    to take the punch from _one_ frament hitting structure without catastrophic
    failure of the plane.
    ( little tidbit: parts will be leaving the vicinity of the engine at around 1000km/h )

  • 12
    Willantis
    Posted November 20, 2010 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    I agree with some of the previous posts. Why weren’t the damaged components in the engine contained? I think RR have some questions to answer on how they met the requirements of the European Aviation Safety Agency Certification Specification for Engines during qualification of the Trent 900. While it is true that only blades are required to be contained, other potential failures are supposed to be analysed and shown to be extremely remote. Pretty obviously this near catastrophe wasn’t extremely remote. EASA might also like to comment on what oversight of RR they carried out, but I bet they do not !

  • 13
    flynaval air
    Posted November 20, 2010 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    The reality about engine changes up till now was that going from one mfg to another was not easily performed.
    As a Program Manager at Douglas Aircraft in the late 90′s, taking two P&W powered white tail MD-11′s to General Electric for American Airlines, required removal of all three P&W engine pylons and putting them in the trash bin. Additional top level changes was removal/capping the hydraulic lines to the engines (3) as well as any electrical changes. This was followed by the installation of G-E peculiar wiring and of course installation of G-E specific engine pylons.
    I was fortunate to have the Director of ops in that building, who selected a terrific tiger team to perform the pylon remove and instal. The team was so good that they were able to back drill using the existing P&W mounting holes without using any major outside hole repairs…..this work was performed over a 72 hour time frame if I remember it correctly. It wasnt easy but these terrific people did it correctly!!!

  • 14
    George
    Posted November 20, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Rumours are going around on some forums that the A380′s wing will need to be replaced because of the damage sustained. If the aircraft is obviously unable to fly out of Singapore and the rumour is in fact true, is it possible for a temporary ‘fix’ to be done to the aircraft that could allow it to fly back to a location such as Toulouse?

  • 15
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted November 21, 2010 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    George,

    Qantas says the jet will be repaired in Singapore. Whether that could involve flying it back to Toulouse or Hamburg for the final stages of the rehabilitation is not known.

  • 16
    INTEGRA
    Posted November 21, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    do you remember the case of edelweiss 554 out of miami 5th october 2003. the T700 engine exploded exactly the same way with great damage to the wing structure.
    Final Report: Edelweiss A330 at Miami on Oct 5th 2003, uncontained engine failure during departure

    NTSB has released the final report about an incident of the Edelweiss A330, registration HB-IQZ, that occured on October 5th 2003 while the A330 was departing Miami to Zurich. The airplane had experienced an uncontained engine failure.

    The final report is here at the NTSB website (Swiss Authorities, where we expected the report, missed the report so far):

    http://www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/brief2.asp?ev_id=20040528X00693&ntsbno=DCA04IA002&akey=1

  • 17
    airfoil
    Posted November 22, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    The A380 pylon or sometimes called the strut has the capability of accepting either the EA engine or the RR engine. Airbus have swapped engines on one of their earlier A380s.
    If there are sufficient EA engines available, then Singapore and Qantas could mount EA engines on their A380s and get them flying again. Because of the EA engine’s superior reliability and fuel burn, SIA and QF might just decide to switch engine vendors.

7 Trackbacks

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  4. ...] one caught fire and blew apart over Indonesia, a Lufthansa spokesman said Thursday.” MORE: Rolls-Royce under fire from all parties over A380 engines (Plane Talking) MORE: Qantas faces several weeks before A380s fly, source says (Reuters) However, [...

  5. ...] one caught fire and blew apart over Indonesia, a Lufthansa spokesman said Thursday.” MORE: Rolls-Royce under fire from all parties over A380 engines (Plane Talking) MORE: Qantas faces several weeks before A380s fly, source says (Reuters) However, [...

  6. By Lastest Rolls-Royce News | Auto Motor Care on November 21, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    ...] Rolls-Royce under fire over A380 engines Airbus is seeking compensation from Rolls-Royce for the additional costs it is incurring because of the serious issues that have emerged with the Trent 900 engine used by Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa on their A380 fleets, reports Ben Sandilands . Read more on Crikey [...

  7. ...] would prevent an engine disintegration that occurred on the Qantas flight from happening, and the tension became more apparent on November 19, when Airbus announced it would seek full compensation from the engine marker for [...

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