Thursday, November 18, 2010

A380 engine replacement could go as high as 40 engines

About 40 Rolls-Royce engines used in the world's fleet of Airbus A380 aircraft may need to be replaced after one such engine partly disintegrated mid-flight this month, Australia's Qantas said.

That would represent about half of the Rolls-Royce engines currently in service on A380 aircraft, the world's largest passenger plane.

"We've been talking to Airbus and Rolls-Royce and we understand that the number (of engines to be replaced) is around 40," Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said on Thursday.

A source familiar with the process said that Singapore Airlines, which operates 11 of the A380s, could be forced to change around two dozen, Qantas may have to swap around a dozen while Lufthansa, which operates the newest A380s, will have to change just one or two.

Emirates, the biggest operator of the A380 globally, is not affected as it uses a different type of engine.

A Qantas A380 with 466 people on board made an emergency landing in Singapore on November 4, after one of its Rolls-Royce engines partly disintegrated in mid-flight after an oil fire.

Since then, airlines have sought to replace their existing engines with newer versions.

Rolls-Royce said last week that the problem with the Trent 900 engine is confined to a specific component in the turbine area. Aviation experts say the fault develops over time, so the new engines should not present any safety issues and will give Rolls-Royce time to come up with a permanent solution.

Singapore Airlines would not confirm any future engine change and said it was acting in compliance with a European emergency directive.

"We remain in very close contact with Rolls-Royce and Airbus, and all checks that we have carried out to date have been in full compliance with their recommendations and instructions," the airline said.


Qantas's six A380s have been grounded since the incident, while Singapore Air has also been forced to cancel several flights in order to replace some older engines.

Analysts said the earnings impact on Qantas -- which lost about 4-5 percent of its seat capacity with the A380 grounding -- has been muted so far with a cost of around AUD$1 million per day. Disruption to flights caused by volcanic ash over Europe earlier this year cost AUD$46 million through lost revenue and extra costs, Qantas has said.

Still, analysts said costs will escalate quickly if Qantas cannot get the A380s back in the air for the busy southern hemisphere summer travel period which starts next month.

Joyce confirmed Qantas wanted Airbus to replace some of the airline's existing Rolls-Royce engines with new engines from aircraft still in production on the Airbus assembly line.

However, he said any change would not impact the delivery of two more A380s due in December as the swap would be with aircraft in earlier stages of production.

Joyce said he could not predict when the airline's A380s would return to service and declined to confirm an Australian newspaper report on Thursday that they are likely to remain grounded until at least early December.


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