Monday, November 8, 2010

If it ain't a Boeing, I'm not going

The investigation now underway into Qantas's A380s is one of the most complex detective stories ever to unfold in the aviation world.

Qantas is going to extraordinary lengths to ensure that there is no repeat of last Thursday's uncontained engine failure on one of its A380s just after it left Singapore for Sydney.

"Uncontained engine failure" is technical talk for an explosion that ripped apart the engine casing, sending hot metal fragments into the wing at high speed. It's not yet known whether it was good luck or good design that prevented a fuel explosion that could have killed all 466 people aboard.

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In fact the explosion did damage the aircraft's hydraulics and cut some of the control lines to another of the plane's engines, which could not be shut down normally after the plane returned to Singapore.

The fact that the engine type, the new-technology Rolls Royce Trent 900, was developed and built by the British manufacturer with a fearsome reputation for reliability simply adds to the intrigue that has gripped the aviation industry.

So does that fact that the only other A380 operators using the Trent 900 design, Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa, cleared their A380s to fly again after inspections that took less than 24 hours.

About 70 per cent of the airlines that have ordered the A380 have chosen the Trent 900 engine option; the rest, such as the world's biggest A380 operator Emirates, have gone for the Engine Alliance GP7000, developed by an American joint venture between aero engine manufacturers General Electric and Pratt and Whitney.

Whatever the cause of the fault that is eventually tracked down by the forensic engineering now underway, the people who are paying for the tickets to fly in these mega-machines are already forming opinions based on their own prejudices.

"If it ain't a Boeing, I'm not going" was one of the many cliches wheeled out this week – the irony being that even though there are more Boeings than Airbuses in the skies, Airbus in the past few years has been decisively outselling Boeing in the airline marketplace.

Recommended reading:
* Air France A380 grounded for fourth time due to fueling problem
* Qantas A380 Airbus fly passengers over Antarctica
* Qantas A380 passengers tarmac ordeal

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