Faulty Rolls-Royce Pipe Caused 2010 Flight Blast, Study Says

A faulty oil pipe in a Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc engine triggered a 2010 blast that forced a Qantas Airways Ltd. jet to make an emergency landing in Singapore, Australia’s transport safety agency said.

Oil ignited after seeping through a cracked pipe that failed to meet design specifications, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau said in a final report on the incident today. Similar parts in other engines were also incorrectly made, making them more likely to break under stress, the bureau said.

In the Nov. 4, 2010 incident, part of the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine blew off after takeoff from Singapore, sending shrapnel through the wing and fuselage of the Airbus SAS A380. The safety agency today cited a lack of oversight and quality control at Rolls-Royce’s manufacturing facilities, while praising the flight crew.

“We clearly fell short,” Colin Smith, director of engineering and technology at Rolls-Royce, said in a separate statement. “The robustness of the Airbus A380 and the professionalism of the Qantas crew assured that the aircraft and all its passengers landed safely.”

After the fire started, one of the engine’s turbine discs broke free, shattered into pieces as it gathered speed, and then burst out of the engine housing, the Australian safety bureau said. None of the 469 people on board were hurt.

Component Defects

At Rolls Royce’s plant in Hucknall, England, a culture existed that made it acceptable not to declare minor component defects, according to the bureau. Certain inspection processes were ambiguous, engineers and designers weren’t always required to consult each other, and quality thresholds weren’t fully communicated to staff, the bureau said.

Rolls-Royce said today it made a measurement error during manufacturing and supports the bureau’s findings. The company has since improved its control, design and manufacturing procedures. London-based Rolls-Royce addressed the issue soon after the incident, according to its 2010 annual report.

Qantas grounded its entire fleet of Airbus SAS superjumbos for more than three weeks after the accident. The Sydney-based airline won A$95 million ($89 million) in compensation from Rolls-Royce.

The Australian regulator has been investigating why problems with the Trent 900’s oil-feed pipe were not spotted before the explosion, and Rolls-Royce has changed the way it develops new components as a result, the agency said in an interim report.

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