Thursday, November 04, 2010

"Technical failure" on A380 grounds flights

Shares of Rolls Royce and EADS, the Airbus parent, have taken a dive after the catastrophic failure of an engine on an A380. And safety of the Airbus is in question as both Qantas and Singapore airlines ground their fleets of the aircraft.
Shortly after taking off from Singapore's International airport at 13:30 local time [02:30 GMT], passengers on board the Qantas flight 32 heard a "loud band" and saw smoke issuing from the starboard side of the world's largest jet. There was a tense 60 minutes as the pilot circled, dumping fuel before making an emergency landing back in Singapore.

Many of the passengers disembarking the Spirit of Australia did not wish to speak to the media, but those that did praised the crew and the airline. Some said it could have been a lot worse, many of them shocked after seeing the damage to the Trent 900 engine manufactured by Rolls Royce. Lars Sandberg, a DJ from Glasgow, Scotland told the BBC he was "just happy to be alive". Another passenger Matt Hewitt said, "I was confident in that I knew that as long as there was at least one, possibly two engines, we could still fly, as long as the wing was effectively still there." 

It has been described as an "uncontained engine failure" which saw parts of the outer housing blown away. Part of the debris struck the wing causing damage to the top side. And on the ground residents of the small Indonesian island of Batam were showered with parts of the engine causing one minor injury. It also created concern that an aircraft may have crashed.

However, the crew on board remain calm and told passengers that everything was under control. The pilot informed people on board that there had been "a technical issue" with the number two engine and that they would not be proceeding to Sydney [CNN].

Within an hour the A380, carrying 433 passengers and 26 crew, had landed safely at Changi at 11.45 local time [03:45 GMT]. As it landed some passengers filmed smoke issuing from beneath the wing. It could have been a lot worse, but the fallout of this incident is still serious and may have implications both for EADS and Rolls Royce.

There are currently 37 Airbus 380s in the skies, operated by Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Emirates amongst others. Another 234 have been ordered by airlines around the globe, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. But this incident has raised concerns. Qantas has already grounded all its fleet and Singapore have also said it will halt flights until further notice. Emirates, Lufthansa and other carriers have yet to stop flights, though not all aircraft owned by these operators possess the same type of engine [BBC].

Stocks were hit hard as the news filtered out. EADS, the Airbus parent, suffered sharp share price falls with its stock dropping 4.05% to 18.225. Rolls Royce shares fell 5.04% to 621.50. Howard Wheeldon, senior strategist at brokerage BGC Partners in London, said, "Until the investigation is properly done we will not know whether it is a defined engine fault or if the explosion was caused by a malfunction of a part within the engine or outside interference such as a bird strike or debris. It could also be a maintenance-related issue." [BBC]

While doubts remain, passengers will feel uneasy about taking to the air in an Airbus. The Airbus A380 has only been in operational service for about three years, though it was first unveiled five years ago. This has been the first serious incident involving the A380 and the Airbus in general has a good safety record, though there have been fatal crashes. For such a new plane, an incident as occurred today will raise serious concerns [Telegraph].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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