Qantas A380 Engine Failure

Pilots faced multiple challenges.


The catastrophic failure of one of its four Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines caused damage to several systems on board a Qantas Airbus A380. A chain of failures had the pilots using all their available skills to bring the megaliner back to Singapore for a safe landing earlier this month. No one on board was injured, despite the fact that the Airbus landed heavy and used almost all of the 13,000-plus-foot runway at Changi Airport. Oil leaks associated with the main bearings of the compressor section led to the engine's failure. The resulting force of the exploding compressor spewed debris, shedding the cowling, compromising one of the wing spars and disabling one of the jet's dual hydraulic systems. Most engine containment structure surrounds the spinning fan blades, which are more likely to be the site of a disabling failure. Because of the damaged hydraulics, the pilots were not able to transfer or dump fuel, though a large hole in one of the wing tanks took care of some of that responsibility — but not the way the crew would have liked. The pilots were unable to use the A380's flaps, spoilers or slats to stabilize the imbalanced jet, and had to land at well over the prescribed maximum landing weight. (Passenger jets are designed to be able to take off at well above their max landing weight, on the assumption they'll be well within spec for landing after burning fuel for several hours.) Because the engine that blew up was one of the inboard pair, the crew was unable to use reverse thrust on landing, since only the two inboard engines on the A380 have that capability. And for good measure, the automatic braking system was rendered inoperative. Rolls-Royce identified the bearing problem as a likely cause of the failure — a teething problem that has been corrected on later versions of the engine. But the manufacturer now faces questions of why it did not notify earlier A380 customers of the potential problem. The Qantas A380 was one of the first delivered, and had the earlier version of the Trent 900s installed.