The Anatomy of the Airbus A380 QF32 near disaster

redo titleThe Airbus presentation to accident investigators of the damage done to QF32 on November 4 gives new technical insights into this near disaster involving a Qantas A380 with 466 persons on board.

The examination of the damage is far from complete, as the presentation makes clear. It doesn’t deal with the other dimensions of this serious incident, which are the loss or impairment of various systems on the giant airliner, and the emerging difficulties the crew faced from fuel load imbalance caused by some of those failures.

The diagrams need to be compared to the photos shown later in this report
The diagrams need to be compared to the photos shown later in this report

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One thing needs to be kept firmly in mind. Rolls-Royce the maker of the Trent 900 engine which disintegrated knew about the faults that the current airworthiness directive concerning these engines says are likely to have caused an intense oil fire in a structural cavity in the intermediate pressure turbine area of the engine.

Rolls-Royce had designed and was introducing a fix for the oil leak issues for this into the engines at its own speed. Qantas was left in the dark. It is fair to suggest that Qantas needs to review relationships with engine manufacturers in which it pays for power by-the-hour and leaves much of the maintenance and oversight of those engines to the designer and manufacturer.

To emphasise the obvious. The interests of the engine maker and holder of the service agreements are not the same as those of the airline. A carrier might want to correct and replace inadequate design features to a different, more urgent timetable that the party that benefits from the support contract, and has its own brand image to protect.

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Some impact damage was done to underbelly and side of the A380
Some impact damage was done to underbelly and side of the A380

page 10The set of graphics shown above were accompanied by a brief written and photographic overview of the damage as currently assessed. damage 01

damage 02damage 03damage 04damage 06damage 07Reviewing these images makes it clear why Qantas was quick, and correct, in grounding its A380 fleet.

The wing  of the jet shows remarkable structural strength in sustaining damage that might have destroyed the airliners of earlier decades, but the questions as to whether control system revisions are necessary to deal with some of the consequences in terms of failed hydraulics and fuel imbalance are said to be very actively under consideration.

And the questions concerning the timeliness of the Rolls-Royce responses to a known problem, and its capacity and willingness to share them with the airlines concerned will not go away. If the engine maker doesn’t address them its customers will.

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More of the same in single aisle jets from Boeing, and China

Xinhau photo of the Comac c919 mock up at Zhuhai yesterday
Xinhau photo of the Comac c919 mock up at Zhuhai yesterday

For those who long for a single aisle jet that is tolerably comfortable, sorry! The news from Boeing and China’s COMAC enterprise means we must resign ourselves for a considerable time to more of the same tight tubes, tight seats and lengthy delays in getting off full flights that we now experience in 737s and A320s.

The Boeing announcement, probably intended to steal any oxygen from the COMAC c919 updates at the Zhuhai Air Show this week, is another signal that an all new single aisle family design to replace its 737 range is not getting any closer to happening.

Boeing said it had started certification flights for a number of small but valuable airframe and engine refinements that will reduce operating costs as they are incorporated in the 737 assembly line at Renton next year.

It’s all explained in this video. (Caution Flash 11, which isn’t proving all that flash in some computers, is required. When will Boeing discover HD YouTubes? )

The Boeing announcement doesn’t advance the Yes, No, Yes, Maybe, Yes, No commentary it has been making about re-engining its 737s, or totally replacing them with a new design, all of which is part of the poker game it is playing with Airbus over its similarly inconsistent or vague commentaries on pursuing the same options for the market sector it addresses with its competing A320 family.

Which is where China, with its COMAC c919 design is of some interest, but no comfort.

The forecast appetite for medium sized single aisle jets in China in particular, and Asia more generally, is so robust that neither Airbus nor Boeing can realistically expect to meet all of that demand from their European and American assembly lines, or even in the case of Airbus, from its new China final assembly line.

The due-in-service in 2016 c919 for which a token 55 intended orders were announced yesterday in Zhuhai, looks like a 737 or A320 inside, and despite some differences in its wing geometry, much the same from the outside. The western media were excluded from attending the press conference, but Flightblogger (Jon Ostrower) did cover the event by looking through a deliberately left open side door.

This leaves us with the certainty of more of the same from Airbus and Boeing, and a China clone of more of the same, until about 2020 at the earliest, when Boeing has hinted that it might have its all-new 737 replacement ready.

Will our kneecaps and patience last that long?