Image: Firefighters surround a Qantas plane
Wong Maye-E  /  AP
Firefighters surround a Qantas passenger plane that made an emergency landing with 459 people aboard in Singapore after having engine problems on Nov. 4.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 11/12/2010 5:49:28 AM ET 2010-11-12T10:49:28

Rolls-Royce Group said Friday that the failure of a Qantas A380 engine last week was specific to just one series of engines and confined to one component of the turbine engine that started an oil fire.

"First ... the issue is specific to the Trent 900," Rolls-Royce said in a statement. "Second, the failure was confined to a specific component in the turbine area of the engine. This caused an oil fire, which led to the release of the intermediate pressure turbine disc."

Leaks or oil stains have been discovered on six of the total of twenty A380s operated by Qantas, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines that use the Trent 900 engines. Qantas and Singapore Airlines have grounded nine of the world's largest airliner between them while Germany's Lufthansa has already replaced an engine on one of its A380s.

The London-based aerospace, power systems and defense company, which is separate from the car manufacturer, said it was working with customers to fix the problems. It declined to give details on how long with would take to resolve the issues.

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Rolls-Royce said the hit to its bottomline from the Qantas incident and its fallout will be partly mitigated by the company's other operations.

Shares in the company rose after the update — a signal that investors are happy to see a definitive statement after days of silence from the world's second-biggest engine maker behind General Electric and one of the last global industrial manufacturing companies in Britain.

Earlier mishaps
Engines on the A380 malfunctioned four times before one of them disintegrated during a flight from Singapore to Sydney last week, and aviation experts said that the earlier mishaps may hold clues to design or construction flaws.

Four problems dating to 2008 led to two warnings for airlines to check parts of the Rolls-Royce Trent 900, a technologically advanced model used by 20 Airbus A380s around the world.

Three of the four previous problems centered on the turbines or oil system.

The number of problems identified in the Trent 900 is not unusual for a jet engine, and analysts, pilots and former safety investigators caution that there is no obvious link between the earlier mishaps and last week's failure.

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But the experts also say they suspect there may be critical problems that weren't detected before the engine went into use. Several experts pointed to the tubes that pump oil around the spinning turbines of the house-sized engine as a possible culprit.

Joerg Handwerg, a spokesman for the pilots' union for German airline Lufthansa, said that minor problems are routine for any jet engine, but it is possible that the issues are an indication that regulators did not adequately check the engine before approving it for commercial use.

"When you see we have a problem with not just one of these engines but several then it points towards that we have a problem in the certification process," Handwerg said.

Barr said the Trent 900 is "out there right at the edge of the envelope" of new engines that are lighter, more energy efficient, less polluting and less noisy.

"The engine has been out there for a few years, they've got some miles on it, and now they're finding things they didn't foresee," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Qantas close-call puts Airbus 380 on probation

  1. Transcript of: Qantas close-call puts Airbus 380 on probation

    WILLIAMS: Good evening.

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: It's been the most talked about passenger jet of recent years because it's just so big, so enormous, and carries so many people. The Airbus A380 is a superjumbo, so large a lot of airports can't handle it. It's got two floors of passenger space, carries hundreds of passengers. It's a long-haul jet powered by four massive engines. And last night, the first major incident in the life of the 380. One of those engines exploded in what could have been a catastrophic flight. We begin here tonight with NBC 's Tom Costello .

    TOM COSTELLO reporting: Home video of the world's biggest commercial plane trailing heavy smoke and making an emergency landing in Singapore . And thicker smoke once it comes to complete stop. Qantas Flight 32 had taken off from Singapore on its way to Sidney , Australia , when just six minutes into flight, the number two engine on the left side of the aircraft exploded. A short time later, the pilot told passengers the other three engines were fine.

    Unidentified Pilot: We have dealt with the situation. The aircraft is secure at this stage. We're going to have to hold for some time whilst we do lighten our load by dumping some fuel and a number of checklists we have to perform.

    COSTELLO: On the ground below, pieces of the engine rained down on the Indonesian island of Batam , hitting a shopping center, cars, even a school, though no one was injured. Once back at the airport in Singapore , passengers said the explosion sounded like a loud thud.

    Ms. MEG GRAHAM (Qantas Flight 32 Passenger): First five minutes, there was a bang, and then another bang and then that was it.

    Unidentified Woman: What kind of bang?

    Ms. GRAHAM: Well, you know, a bang. A bang.

    Woman: Like bang. Yeah.

    Ms. GRAHAM: Boom.

    Mr. NEIL SHEPHARD (Qantas Flight 32 Passenger): The pilot did his job. He did a great job in terms of keeping everybody calm.

    COSTELLO: The Airbus A380 is only three years old, able to seat as many as 850 passengers. Thirty-seven are in service worldwide, flown by five international carriers. Qantas owns six A380s , the pride of the fleet. A short time before one landed in Los Angeles today, Qantas announced it was temporarily grounding its A380s .

    Mr. ALAN JOYCE (Qantas CEO): We would suspend those A380 services until we are completely confident that Qantas safe requirements have been met.

    COSTELLO: Veteran investigators say the massive explosion could have proved fatal had the debris penetrated the wing or cut into the cabin.

    Mr. GREG FEITH (Former National Transportation Safety Board Investigator): Because there is a fuel tank, there are multiple fuel lines in that area as well as hydraulic lines.

    COSTELLO: Uncontained engine failures are extremely rare. The Europeans issued an air-worthiness directive earlier this year on that Rolls-Royce engine, warning that unusual wear could cause the engine to shut down in flight. Tonight, Rolls-Royce says it is investigating and it recommends airlines do precautionary checks on those A380s that use that engine. Brian :

    WILLIAMS: Tom Costello starting us off in Washington tonight. Tom , thanks.

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