Qantas A380 to Fly Again 18 Months After Engine Explosion

The Qantas Airways Ltd. (QAN) A380 that suffered a mid-air engine explosion about 18 months ago will return to the skies tomorrow after repairs costing A$139 million ($144 million).

The Nancy-Bird Walton will fly back to Sydney from Singapore following the work, which was covered by insurance, said Thomas Woodward, a Qantas spokesman. The Airbus SAS plane made an emergency landing in the city-state in November 2010 after one of its four Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc engines exploded over Indonesia.

All parts of the A380 damaged in the explosion were replaced, rather than repaired, in preparation for the resumption of commercial services with a flight to Hong Kong on April 28. The plane has also gone through a testing schedule usually reserved for brand-new aircraft, including a more than four-hour-long test flight.

“Throughout it all, the airplane behaved superbly,” Ben Holland, an Airbus technical pilot, said at a press briefing in Singapore today. The plane went as high as 43,000 feet, its maximum altitude, he said. Another flight was also made to test cabin equipment, such as lighting and microwaves.

Qantas won A$95 million in compensation from Rolls-Royce for disruptions caused by the incident, which prompted the carrier to ground its entire A380 fleet for more than three weeks. The costs associated with the accident are thus equivalent to at least $242 million, more than the $228 million list price of a Boeing Co. (BA) 787-9 Dreamliner.

The A380 has an average list price of $389.9 million, according to Airbus. Airlines usually get discounts for large orders.

Long Wait

Work on the Nancy-Bird Walton, which included rebuilding the engine and part of the plane’s skin, took about eight months, Woodward said. The rest of the time, the aircraft, named after one of Australia’s first female pilots, was sitting at Singapore’s Changi airport waiting for access to maintenance hangars, he said.

The plane couldn’t be fixed earlier as only Singapore Airlines Ltd. had facilities big enough for an A380 at the airport and it needed them for its own fleet. The carrier was eventually able to free up time for the Australian airline.

“You don’t invest in an A380 hangar and not use it,” said Alan Milne, the head of Qantas’ integrated operations center. “For them to rearrange their maintenance schedule to allow us to have it for so long was just a wonderful piece of cooperation.”

Rib-Feet Cracks

The months the plane spent in storage added to the challenge of fixing it following the explosion, said Andrew Daws, an Airbus flight-test engineer. During the repairs, hairline cracks were also found in rib-feet used to support the plane’s wings that were unrelated to the explosion. That helped prompt inspections and tighter checks on A380s worldwide.

The Nancy-Bird Walton’s return to service will raise Qantas’s active fleet of the 450-seat aircraft to 12. The carrier has another eight on order. The plane will also help the carrier with plans to speed up the retirement of less fuel- efficient 747s.

“The older the aircraft are, the more you have to spend to keep them going,” said Mark Williams, an analyst at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc in Sydney. “It’s not just fuel costs, it’s maintenance as well.”

In the Nov. 4, 2010, incident, part of the Nancy-Bird Walton’s Rolls-Royce (RR/) Trent 900 engine casing blew off shortly after takeoff from Singapore, sending shrapnel through a wing and fuselage, according to a preliminary report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. None of the 469 people on board were injured.

Engine Fire

The incident was caused by an oil leak and subsequent fire within the engine, according to the safety regulator. London- based Rolls-Royce subsequently revised procedures including ones for assessing new parts, it said.

Rolls-Royce has taken “appropriate remedial action to make sure that such events cannot happen again,” said David Mair of Republic Consulting Pty. in Sydney, which represents the engine- maker. The failure was confined to a single part, he said.

Qantas Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce said in February that the airline will retire two more 747s in addition to four being phased out this month. The carrier, which has never had a fatal jetliner crash, had 20 747s as of June. Deliveries of 50 on-order 787s also due to start next year.

Replacing the older aircraft will help pare fuel usage, after prices jumped more than 40 percent in Singapore trading in two years. The airline still expects fuel costs to increase by A$300 million in the six months through June from a year earlier because of higher prices and increased flying.

To contact the reporters on this story: David Fickling in Sydney at dfickling@bloomberg.net; Yudith Ho in Singapore at yho35@bloomberg.net.

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

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