Progress on A380 Engine Probe

Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine on the Airbus A380

On Nov. 8, Monday, Rolls-Royce said that progress was being made in finding out what caused last week’s blowout on a Qantas Airbus A380 flight.

Shares in Rolls reversed losses and rose 3 percent as the group eased fears that the failure of one of the four Trent 900 engines powering the Qantas superjumbo signaled a possible wider problem in its family of Trent engines.

The company released a statement saying “Rolls-Royce has made progress in understanding the cause of the engine failure on the Trent 900-powered A380 Qantas flight QF32 on 4 November.”

The company, which has been criticized by newspapers and some analysts for saying little since the incident, responded after Australia’s Qantas grounded its fleet of Airbus A380s for at least three more days.

Qantas, which last week said an engine design flaw could be to blame, said it was investigating oil leaks that might have caused the engine explosion on a Sydney-bound flight.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce told Australia’s ABC radio “On three of the engines what we found is slight anomalies — oil where oil shouldn’t be on the engines.”

Joyce said “We’re just trying to check what the cause of that would be. These are new engines on new aircraft and they shouldn’t have these issues at this stage, so it’s given us indication of an area for us to focus into.”

The incident has weighed on Rolls, which competes with a consortium led by General Electric and Pratt & Whitney in providing the engines needed to power the world’s largest airliner.

Investors have also expressed fears that the problems could run deeper, affecting other Trent engines for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the future Airbus A350, which are both expected to sell in the thousands compared with hundreds of A380 sales.

Last month, Boeing blamed Rolls for forcing it to push back delivery of its already-delayed 787 after a Trent 1000 engine blew up at a UK test site in August. But Rolls on Monday denied any link between the two events. “We can be certain that the separate Trent 1000 event which occurred in August 2010 on a testbed in Derby is unconnected,” the company’s statement said.

“This incident happened during a development program with an engine operating outside normal parameters. We understand the cause and a solution has been implemented.”

A wider problem in the Trent family could have dealt a serious blow to Airbus as its A350 is only offered with Rolls engines, whereas GE is an alternative supplier on the 787.

Qantas’s reputation as one of the world’s safest airlines also came under the spotlight, while investors looked at the cost of grounding aircraft and compensating passengers. Underscoring the pressure on Rolls to provide reassurance to travelers, one analyst said it could face tougher measures barring a quick resolution.

Joyce said Qantas had no plans to change its delivery schedule for new A380 planes and it was too early to talk about any legal claim against Rolls-Royce or Airbus.

A second Qantas flight out of Singapore was forced to make an emergency landing after another problem on Friday, this time with an older type of Rolls engine on a Boeing 747-400 jumbo.




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