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.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
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
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home