Australia Regulator Finds `Critical Safety Issue' in A380 Trent 900 Engine

Australia’s aviation regulator recommended Rolls-Royce Group Plc address a “critical safety issue” in its Trent 900 engines amid a probe of an explosion last month on an Airbus SAS A380 flown by Qantas Airways Ltd.

The possible manufacturing defect could lead to an oil fire and “catastrophic engine failure,” the Australian Transport Safety Bureau said on its website today. The potentially defective component could crack under fatigue, the ATSB said.

Qantas said it is checking its Trent 900 engines following the regulator’s recommendation. The examination comes less than a week after the airline resumed A380 passenger services. A Nov. 4 mid-flight powerplant blowup had prompted a 23-day grounding of its six superjumbos. Singapore Airlines Ltd. and Deutsche Lufthansa AG are the only other carriers using the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 on the A380, the world’s largest passenger jet.

“There’s no doubt in Rolls’ mind, and our mind, and now the ATSB’s mind that the reason why this occurred is a design or manufacturing problem on the engines,” Alan Joyce, chief executive officer of Australia’s largest airline, said in Melbourne today.

‘Recover Losses’

Separately, Qantas said it has begun talks with Rolls-Royce to recoup financial losses and may sue should it fail to reach a settlement. The Sydney-based airline today started preliminary legal action to ensure any lawsuit is heard in Australia.

“Today’s 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,” it said in a statement.

A London-based Rolls-Royce spokesperson declined to comment on Qantas’s action.

Rolls-Royce fell as much as 18.5 pence, or 3 percent, to 600 pence and traded at 615.5 pence as of 9:50 a.m. in London, valuing the London-based company at 11.5 billion pounds ($18 billion). The stock has lost 6 percent since Nov. 3.

The ATSB comments are “consistent” with what Rolls-Royce has said on the issue, said Roger Hunt, a Sydney-based external spokesman for the company. Rolls-Royce, airlines and regulators are inspecting engines and removing any from service that display the problem, the ATSB said.

Airbus is working with regulators and customers of Rolls- Royce to minimize disruptions, said Sean Lee, a Singapore-based spokesman for the Toulouse, France-based aircraft manufacturer.

The London-based engine maker will inspect and fix all of its engines used on the A380 superjumbo planes by the end of 2011, Chief Financial Officer Andrew Shilston said at an investor conference in New York yesterday. “In about a year’s time, all of the necessary components will be in place and this will all be behind us,” he said.

‘Small Component’

The fix to the Trent 900 turbine involves replacing “a small component inside the engine that’s not costly,” Shilston said in an interview afterward, declining to offer further details. The company will shorten the recommended time that the part is used before it’s replaced, he said.

Singapore Airlines is carrying out checks on its engines to ensure the safe operation of its fleet, said Nicholas Ionides, a spokesman for the carrier. Frank Puttmann, a Singapore-based spokesman for Lufthansa, wasn’t able to immediately comment.

The engine explosion on the Qantas A380 was probably caused by an oil fire in one of the plane’s four Trent 900 turbines, the European Aviation Safety Agency said last month.

The ATSB will tomorrow announce its preliminary findings into the Nov. 4 incident in which no passengers were injured.

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Fenner in Canberra at rfenner@bloomberg.net; Ben Sharples in Melbourne at bsharples@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dave McCombs at dmccombs@bloomberg.net

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