Quantas Fleet of A380 Is Grounded After Explosion

 

HONG KONG — Qantas Airways suspended flights on its six Airbus A380 jetliners on Thursday after an engine on one of the superjumbo planes exploded shortly after takeoff from Singapore, scattering pieces of debris over an Indonesian island and forcing the plane to return to Singapore for an emergency landing. There were no reported injuries.

According to a report by the Aviation Safety Network, which keeps a database of aircraft incidents and accidents, Flight 32 suffered an “uncontained” engine failure six minutes after takeoff that caused “substantial” damage to the plane. An uncontained engine failure is extremely rare and occurs when components detach and fly off the main engine housing — often with explosive force.

“When turbines spin, they do so at very high speed, generating tremendous amounts of energy,” said Paul Hayes, director of accidents and insurance at Ascend, an aviation consultancy in London. “The risk in this type of failure is that bits of hot metal go into the passenger cabin or penetrate part of the aircraft structure.”

Alan Joyce, Qantas’s chief executive, said the Australian airline would suspend services on its fleet of six A380s “until we are confident that Qantas safety requirements have been met,” according to a statement on the airline’s Web site.

Emma Kearns, a spokeswoman for Qantas, said its Flight 32, bound for Sydney, returned to Singapore on Thursday after one of the twin-decked jet’s four engines shut down over western Indonesia. She said the flight was carrying 433 passengers and 26 crew members. The plane landed safely in Singapore at around 11:45 a.m. local time, and the Australian government said there were no immediate reports of injuries.

The airline’s sober account of the incident came as local media broadcast images of the plane’s charred No. 2 engine — the inside engine on the left wing — being doused by fire engines at Singapore’s Changi International Airport. Television images from the island of Batam, Indonesia, showed residents holding large chunks of metal that appeared to have come from the plane, some of them bearing red and white paint resembling the Qantas insignia.

Passengers who were on board Flight 32 said they heard what sounded like an explosion while over western Indonesia a few minutes after takeoff.

The noise was “like a bang, like a shotgun going off, like a big, loud gun,” Tyler Wooster, a passenger, told Australia’s Nine Network. “My whole body just went to jelly, and I didn’t know what was going to happen as we were going down, if we were going to be O.K.”

It was the first such engine failure experienced by the A380, which entered service in 2007, said Justin Dubon, an Airbus spokesman. Currently, 37 of the superjumbos — which can seat up to 800 passengers — are being flown by five airlines: Air France, Emirates, Lufthansa, Singapore and Qantas.

Those aircraft have completed roughly 21,400 flights. Previous mechanical problems with the A380 have been relatively minor, involving fuel and braking systems, Mr. Dubon said.

Qantas’s A380s are equipped with Trent 900 engines manufactured by Rolls-Royce. Singapore Airlines, which operates 11 A380s, and Lufthansa, which flies three of the planes, also fit their A380s with the same engine type, Airbus said.

Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa said they had been advised by Airbus and Rolls-Royce to conduct a series of precautionary technical inspections of their A380s.

Nicholas Ionides, a Singapore Airlines spokesman, said that based on that advice, it was temporarily suspending its A380 flights. The airline would have normally operated at least seven superjumbo flights Thursday from its Singapore base to Sydney, Melbourne, London, Paris and Zurich. It was not immediately clear how long the suspension would be in place and how many flights would be affected.

Aage Duenhaupt, a Lufthansa spokesman, said the German carrier had only one A380 flight on Thursday, from Frankfurt to Johannesburg, which was scheduled to depart at 10:40 p.m. local time. The airline said it was seeking more information from Rolls-Royce before deciding whether the flight would operate as scheduled.

In a statement, Rolls-Royce said the company felt it was “prudent to recommend that a number of basic precautionary engine checks are performed,” given that the Trent 900 engine had been in service for only three years. It added that, given the early stages of the investigation into the Qantas engine problem, “it would be inappropriate to draw any conclusions at this time.”

Josh Rosenstock, a Rolls-Royce spokesman, declined to give further details about the types of inspection it was recommending to A380 operators.

(Rolls-Royce is a separate company from the carmaker, which is a subsidiary of BMW.)

The European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates both Airbus and Rolls-Royce, said it was working closely with Australian Safety Bureau investigators to determine the cause of the incident. “We take this issue very seriously,” said Jeremie Teahan, an agency spokesman in Cologne, Germany. “If a safety risk is identified, we will of course take appropriate measures,” which could include mandated repairs or replacement of defective parts, he said.

The emergency landing on Thursday was the latest malfunction this year for Qantas.

In late March, a Qantas Boeing 747 bound for Singapore was forced to return to Sydney after one of the plane’s pilots reported mechanical problems that affected one of the plane’s engines, according to Australian media. And on March 31, the airline reported that a brake had locked up as an A380 landed in Sydney, causing two of the plane’s tires to blow out.

On Aug. 31, the airline reported a “catastrophic failure” in an engine of a 747 flying from San Francisco to Sydney, according to The Australian newspaper. The jetliner safely returned to San Francisco.

Qantas flies the A380 to Singapore six days a week from Sydney and twice a week from Melbourne. It offers daily flights on the superjumbo to Los Angeles from Sydney and three flights a week from Melbourne. The carrier also flies the A380 five times a week to London from Sydney and twice a week from Melbourne. Both London flights make stopovers in Singapore.

The Australian flag carrier has another 14 A380s on order from Airbus. Mr. Joyce, the chief executive, said Thursday’s incident would not affect those orders.

By KEVIN DREW and NICOLA CLARK/NYT

Kevin Drew reported from Hong Kong, and Nicola Clark from Paris.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s