Qantas CEO: 'faulty design' may be behind blowout

ROHAN SULLIVAN - Associated Press
The Associated Press

Qantas said the engine blowout on its Airbus superjumbo taking off from Singapore was likely caused by material failure or faulty design, as passengers from the stricken plane left Friday for Australia on other flights.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said it was too early to say exactly what caused one of the A380's four Rolls-Royce engines to fail shortly after takeoff Thursday and that a thorough investigation was under way. But he said maintenance — for which the airline has responsibility — did not appear to be a significant factor.

The airline's fleet of six A380s remained grounded.

"This is an engine issue and the engines have been maintained by Rolls-Royce since they were installed on the aircraft," Joyce told a news conference in Sydney. "We believe this is probably most likely a material failure or some type of design issue. We don't believe this is related to maintenance in any way."

Passengers were put on a relief flight bound for Australia on Friday morning, a day after the A380 suffered an engine blowout about four minutes after taking off from Singapore, shooting flames and shedding pieces of metal over an Indonesian island. It later made a safe emergency landing in Singapore after dumping its fuel.

"We have just taken off now. The flight was slightly delayed but we are told to expect a fast short flight of 6 hours 45 minutes," passenger Matthew Hewitt told The Associated Press in a text message.

Other passengers earlier said some of them were flying on two scheduled Qantas flights to Perth and Sydney. The flights were due to arrive Friday night.

It was the most serious midair incident involving the double-decker A380 since it debuted in October 2007 with a Singapore Airlines flight to Sydney — the same route Qantas flight QF32 was flying when the engine failed.

Joyce said Qantas, Rolls-Royce and the plane's manufacturer, Airbus, would conduct a series of checks on every engine on the airline's A380s. Those checks will be finished within 24 to 48 hours, and if no problems are found the planes would resume flying, Joyce said.

Singapore Airlines, which also grounded its fleet of 11 A380s after the Qantas incident, said in a statement Friday it had resumed flights of its superjumbos after having completed precautionary checks that were recommended by Rolls-Royce and Airbus.

Ian Sangston, the general manager of air safety investigation at the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said his group would lead the official investigation, which would include input from Qantas, Airbus, Rolls-Royce and aviation authorities in several countries.

The faulty engine was being removed for inspection and the rest of the plane was being examined, too, he said. The flight data and cockpit voice recorders had been recovered and brought to Australia, where their contents would be analyzed.

Key clues to what happened, and why, would likely come from the debris that was scattered across Batam island in Indonesia when the blowout occurred. No one was injured by the falling material.

"We've got to gather those items from Batam, which will probably prove very interesting to our technical people as in they will show fracture surfaces and so on," Sangston told a news conference in Canberra, the Australian capital.

He said there was no suggestion maintenance workers may have been responsible for the engine blowout, but cautioned that the investigation was in its very early stages.

Sangston said it was the first such incident involving the combination of an A380 and the type of engine, a Trent 900.

The agency would issue a preliminary report by Dec. 3, though the full investigation could take one year, Sangston said.

The stricken A380 was carrying 440 passengers and 26 crew. Qantas had earlier said the plane was carrying 433 passengers but corrected the number on Friday without an explanation.

After the plane touched down in Singapore, the engine closest to the fuselage on the left wing had visible burn marks and was missing a plate section that would have been painted with the red kangaroo logo of the airline. The upper part of the left wing also appeared damaged, indicating that one or more pieces from the engine gouged a hole in the wing.

Passenger amateur video from inside the plane showed white vapor coming out of the wing as the A380 landed.

Joyce confirmed some tires on the aircraft burst upon landing, but said that was probably because more than usual thrust was used during the touch down. There was no danger from the tire blowouts, he said. He also confirmed that the engine failure caused damage to the plane's wing.

"Parts of the engine did go into the wing of the aircraft ... that was part of what made this a significant engine failure," he said.

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Associated Press writers Julia Zappei in Singapore, Vijay Joshi in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.