Superjumbo engine fire led to 'cascade of failures'

The cascade of errors suffered by an Australian airliner were described as unprecedented yesterday, as the British manufacturer of its engines struggled to cope with increasing criticism from within the industry.

The pilots of a Qantas A380 superjumbo faced 54 separate warning alarms when one of its Rolls-Royce engines disintegrated and sent shrapnel ripping through the aircraft's wing two weeks ago, the deputy president of the Australian and International Pilots Association has said.

Richard Woodward, himself a Qantas A380 pilot, said that the "number of failures is unprecedented," adding: "There is probably a one in 100 million chance to have all that go wrong."

Mr Woodward outlined to Associated Press how two of the airliner's fuel tanks became punctured, causing a leak that led to an increasing imbalance between the port and starboard sides of the aircraft. This was compounded by it quickly becoming tail heavy, because electrical problems stopped the crew from pumping fuel forward. The risk of this causing the aeroplane to lose lift, stall and crash was the greatest threat, according to safety experts.

It was due to luck as much as skill that the aircraft stayed in the air given the severity of the crisis it faced; the captain happened to be undergoing his annual test, meaning that a total of five experienced pilots – including three captains – were on board.

"I don't think any crew in the world would have been trained to deal with the number of different issues this crew faced," Mr Woodward said.

Meanwhile an internal Airbus memo yesterday confirmed that the pilots had to deal with a "cascade of system failures," heaping further pressure on Rolls-Royce. The Derby-based company, whose value has dropped by £930m since the Qantas incident, has earned growing and unwelcome comparisons with BP for a wobbly media strategy which is blamed for generating uncertainty about the implications of the engine failure and thus contributing to a 10 per cent fall in its share price.

But while BP was criticised for its spectacular mismanagement of the early days of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill by being seen to try to avoid blame and unguarded comments by the chief executive, Tony Hayward, the problem for Rolls-Royce and its boss, Sir John Rose, has been its almost monastic public silence on the problems facing its Trent 900 engines.

The perception that Rolls-Royce is allowing others to frame the terms of the debate about the A380 engine failure was strengthened yesterday when it fell to Qantas's chief executive, Alan Joyce, to announce that up to 40 Trent 900s will need to be replaced worldwide – representing about half of the Rolls-Royce engines that power the Airbus superjumbo fleet. The airline has kept its superjumbo fleet grounded since the incident.

In a separate development, the aircraft maker said it would be seeking compensation from Rolls-Royce for any disruption to the production of the A380 caused by the need to replace or modify Trent 900s. Rolls-Royce made no immediate comment on the claim that it will have to make 40 new engines, and has said only that it is likely it would have to replace a single component on each of its Trent 900s "over a period of time".

Analysts point out that the financial and political damage to Rolls-Royce is very far from the catastrophe suffered by BP. Indeed, shares in the company yesterday closed 1.8 per cent higher on the back of the announcement of new aviation and shipping deals. But there is concern that the aviation company has been too quiet.

Julian Tolley, of the stockbroker HB Markets, said: "I think Rolls-Royce has been remiss in the level of information that it has put into the market and the public domain.

"Of course it has to check and be sure of the cause of this problem. But we have a situation where the most authoritative information about what happened is still coming from websites and eye-witnesses."

In the meantime, there is little sign that the reserved corporate culture will be abandoned. The company yesterday declined to respond to an email asking whether its media strategy had been too defensive.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    Day In a Page

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'