Australian Regulator Cites Oil Leak for Qantas Trent 900 Engine Explosion

Australia’s aviation regulator said an oil leak in a Rolls-Royce Group Plc engine was the likely cause of an explosion that forced a Qantas Airways Ltd. Airbus SAS A380 to make an emergency landing in Singapore last month.

An oil fire was “central to the engine failure,” the Australian Transport Safety Bureau said in its preliminary report on the Nov. 4 explosion. While investigations are continuing, the regulator has issued a safety recommendation for Rolls-Royce and airlines to carry out checks and modify engines where the issue appears.

A misaligned pipe caused by a manufacturing defect in the Trent 900 powerplant caused the oil leak that ultimately led to an explosion that sent shrapnel through the plane’s wing, the ATSB said. The regulator said it was satisfied with Qantas’s actions, which included an immediate grounding of its six A380s following the explosion and inspections.

“Given no one was aware the potential problem existed, it is highly unlikely that any maintenance would have been able to establish the problem,” ATSB Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan told reporters in Canberra today.

Rolls-Royce said in an e-mailed statement today the regulator’s findings are “consistent” with its own public statements and the London-based engine-maker will continue to work with authorities to ensure compliance.

The engine explosion over Indonesia forced the Qantas A380 to make an emergency landing in Singapore. None of the 469 passengers and crew onboard were injured, the regulator said.

‘Loud Bangs’

The flight crew reported hearing two “loud bangs” as the plane was still climbing after takeoff, with the aircraft’s monitor showing an overheating warning for its number 2 engine turbine, the report said.

As the pilots reduced thrust in the engine, a radio call was made to Singapore’s Changi airport indicating there may be a problem and fire extinguishers were deployed on the affected powerplant.

It took the crew about 50 minutes to complete all the procedures associated with the engine message and to test controllability of the plane before beginning a descent into Singapore less than two hours after takeoff.

“The aircraft wouldn’t have arrived safely in Singapore without the focus and effective action of the flight crew,” Dolan said today.

Flights Resumed

Qantas resumed passenger superjumbo flights on Nov. 27, and the carrier now has two in service.

The airline said it welcomed the ATSB’s findings. The carrier has completed the new recommended checks on one of the planes back in service while inspections on the second have started, Sydney-based Qantas said in a statement today.

The carrier has replaced five engines to meet the latest standards and another 11 will also either need to be modified or changed, it said. Qantas said it “continues to work closely” with Rolls-Royce, Airbus and regulators on the Trent 900.

More than a dozen Australian investigators have been piecing together shrapnel from the explosion over Indonesia, with the regulator passing on its findings to counterparts in Europe and Singapore.

The ATSB expects to release the final report within a year of the incident, it said on its website.

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Fenner in Canberra rfenner@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Neil Denslow at ndenslow@bloomberg.net

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