Problem with Trent 900 was known before accident and raises ethical questions

The diagnosis of the problem with the Trent 900 has come in a matter of days and the solution has already been identified and is under implementation. This convinces me that the problem was already known and so was the solution.

There are at least two  important ethical questions which are raised by the Trent 900 story.

1. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), in August, apparently  relaxed a directive regarding the frequency with which Trent 900 engines were to be inspected. The Directive had been issued originally in January. That in itself  should primarily be a technical judgement call and judgements – especially in hindsight – can always be found to be faulty without raising any issues of ethics. However the ethical issue arises if – as it seems to be – the relaxation in August was initiated by representations from a party (Rolls Royce in this case) who found the original directive too onerous. The ethical standards of both the Regulator (EASA) and of the petitioner (Rolls Royce) then give cause for concern.

2. The second ethical issue arises if Rolls Royce knew in advance of the accident to the engine on QF32 that the engines in use were at risk and that the consequences could have been catastrophic. If this was just a judgement of the probability of failure and that this probability was judged insignificant then it is an issue of bad judgement but not unethical. But an insignificant probability of failure should not have initiated the programme of engine modifications that was apparently ongoing even before the accident. Therefore, if Rolls Royce, knowing full well that the risks were sufficiently high to require that the engines had necessarily to be rectified, kept quiet in the “gamble” that no accidents would occur before they had managed to modify all the “faulty” engines,  then it becomes a case of low ethical standards and not just poor judgement. Reports suggest that Rolls Royce knew that the modifications were necessary more than a year ago but also that the mechanic who revealed this was forced to speak anonymously. This does not give any confidence that there is full transparency and, in fact, strengthens the view that Rolls Royce knew there was a problem. The speed (days rather than months) with which the diagnosis has been made and the solution defined also indicates that the engine failure did not come as much of a surprise and that the problem and the solution were already known.

The mainly technical issues with the engine indirectly raise a more general question for the aviation industry of whether there are conditions where competitive pressures  can be damaging because they increase the risk of potential harm to the general public (who unwittingly become guinea pigs for testing new technologies).

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5 Responses to “Problem with Trent 900 was known before accident and raises ethical questions”

  1. Rolls Royce scrambling to find Trent 900 replacement engines « The k2p blog Says:

    […] European Regulator (EASA) has not commented on why they relaxed their Airworthiness Directive and whether this was done in response to representations from Rolls Royce. The engine maker is also […]

  2. Rolls Royce kept Airbus and Qantas in the dark about two key engine modifications « The k2p blog Says:

    […]… […]

  3. Rolls Royce will face costs of over 300 million $ to fix the Trent 900 problems « The k2p blog Says:

    […] by Rolls Royce were “not fit for service” or – even more damagingly – that Rolls Royce were aware of the faults when the engines were delivered then Rolls Royce could be liable for massive damages and even for criminal negligence. In fact it […]

  4. What did Rolls Royce know and when? « The k2p blog Says:

    […] Problem with Trent 900 was known before accident and raises ethical questions […]

  5. EASA eases safety inspections for A380′s Trent 900 engines « The k2p blog Says:

    […] EASA had also relaxed inspection requirements before the explosion on the Qantas A380 probably in response to representations by the engine manufacturer and /or the airlines. One hopes that their decision to relax inspections this time is not just in response to pressure. […]

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