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Qantas fears engine design fault after A380 drama

05 listopada, 2010

Qantas said Friday a mid-air drama involving a flagship A380 superjumbo may have been caused by a design fault in its Rolls-Royce engines, raising questions over the giant long-haul craft.

Chief executive Alan Joyce said early investigations pointed to a "material failure or a design issue" in the Airbus plane\'s engines after one exploded minutes after take-off from Singapore, prompting an emergency landing.

"This is an engine issue and the engines were maintained by Rolls-Royce since being installed on the aircraft," Joyce told reporters at the Australian flag-carrier\'s Sydney headquarters.

"We believe that this is most likely some kind of material failure or a design issue... we don\'t believe this is related to maintenance in any way."

The comments are the first to shed light on Thursday\'s events, when engine casing rained down on an Indonesian town and the superjumbo with 466 people on board dumped fuel before returning to Singapore.

The drama has thrown the A380 -- the double-decker giant touted as the future of long-haul travel -- into the safety spotlight three years after it took to the skies.

Rolls-Royce urged airlines to carry out "basic precautionary checks" on its Trent 900 engines after the incident.

Some 37 of the giant planes are currently in use around the world.

Qantas has grounded its fleet of six A380s but Joyce said they could return to the skies within 48 hours if they come through eight hours of safety checks.

He added that some of the stricken A380\'s tyres burst during Thursday\'s emergency landing in Sinapore, but said that was "not significant".

Qantas said the plane had 440 passengers and 26 crew on board but no injuries were reported.

European manufacturer Airbus said it was sending a team to Singapore and would cooperate fully with the probe launched by Australian and French air accident investigators.

Singapore Airlines (SIA), the first airline to operate the world\'s largest passenger jet in 2007, said it resumed A380 flights "following precautionary checks".

Qantas, which has never had a fatal jetliner crash in its 90-year history, said the plane involved was the first A380 it received in September 2008, and recently underwent its first major maintenance check, in Germany.

The Australian flag-carrier delayed flights usually serviced by A380s between Melbourne and Sydney and Los Angeles, as passengers on the aborted trip resumed their journey to Sydney on replacement planes.

Witnesses told of hearing a loud "bang" shortly after take-off as the left-side engine blew, damaging the wing above. The pilot then dumped fuel and circled Singapore before landing.

"All of a sudden I heard a big bang, like a big gunshot bang, like a really loud gun," Tyler Wooster, 16, who was in a window seat above the wing, told Australian public broadcaster ABC.

"I couldn\'t see, obviously, what happened to the engine beneath, but I saw it shot a big hole through the wing... You could see how the the wing had peeled off."

After 18 months of production delays, the A380\'s first commercial flight, operated by SIA, was on the same Singapore-Sydney route in October 2007.

Since the launch, fuel and computer glitches have grounded several A380s and one Air France flight was forced back to New York after problems with its navigation system in November 2009.

In April, a Qantas A380 damaged tyres on landing from Singapore in Sydney, causing a shower of sparks.

As well as the 37 A380s now flying commercially, another 234 are on order from airlines, according to Airbus -- whose US arch-rival Boeing is banking on the smaller 787 Dreamliner competing for the long-haul sector.

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