Posts Tagged ‘Airbus’

Airbus invokes “Plan B” while Dreamliner remains grounded till the summer

February 20, 2013

The Boeing Dreamliner which was grounded globally on January 16th will remain grounded at least till the end of March and possibly till the summer. United Airlines has removed the Dreamliner from all its schedules till March 30th. But LOT Polish Airlines which flies Boeing 767’s and was hoping for these to be replaced by 5 Dreamliners at the end of March has extended the lease for the 767’s (apparently at Boeing’s insistence) for a further 6 months till October 2013.

All Nippon Airways, which has 17 Dreamliners in its fleet says it has lost 15.4 million of sales revenues just in January. But ANA has kept its profit forecast for the fiscal year through March unchanged at about $44 million.

All Nippon has not asked Boeing for compensation linked to the grounded 787s but will discuss the issue once the total financial effect is more clear, said the executive vice president, Kiyoshi Tonomoto, according to Reuters.

The battery problem has yet to be resolved but there was further evidence that the cells are prone to overheating and thermal runaways.

Bangkok Post: On January 16, the 50 Dreamliners in service around the world were grounded after a battery fire on a Japan Airlines plane parked in Boston, and battery smoke on an All Nippon Airways flight forced an emergency landing. On Tuesday, a Japanese safety board official said that investigators found a battery on the ANA flight that initially was believed to be intact had also been damaged. Detailed examination of the auxiliary power unit battery revealed that two of its eight cells were misshapen.

One market-matching family

The Airbus A350 family . image airbus.com

In the meantime Airbus has invoked Plan B and decided to drop the lithium-ion batteries for the A 350 so as not to jeopardise the intoduction of the aircraft in 2014. With the Dreamliner delays and teething problems, Airbus has a golden opportinity to break into the Dreamliner market with a timely introduction of the A350.

Reuters:  Airbus has dropped lithium-ion batteries of the type that forced the grounding of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and will use traditional nickel-cadmium batteries in its crucially important next passenger jet, the A350.

The European planemaker said on Friday it had taken the decision to adopt the batteries used on existing models such as the A380 superjumbo in order to prevent delays in the A350’s entry to service next year. ….. 

“We want to mature the lithium-ion technology but we are making this decision today to protect the A350’s entry-into-service schedule,” an Airbus spokeswoman said. ….

The A350 is due to enter service in the second half of 2014 compared with an initial target of 2012 when it was launched as Europe’s answer to the lightweight 787 Dreamliner. ….

….. Airbus will use the lithium-ion batteries for a maiden flight in mid-year and early flight trials but switch to traditional batteries in time for certification and delivery. …

The lithium-ion battery industry is concerned but not unduly so, since the market for aircraft batteries is just a tiny portion of their market.

Boeing Dreamliner batteries could be “inherently unsafe” while Airbus says it has a Plan B

February 1, 2013

The fault with the Boeing Dreamliner Batteries/electrical systems has not yet been found. This is not good news for Boeing since the grounding of 50 aircraft continues. Each grounded aircraft poses a potential claim on Boeing for about $2.5 million per month. The delay in finding the fault also correspondingly delays the selection of a “fix” and the deployment of that “fix”. And since some 850 aircraft have been ordered and production has not been stopped, the fix has to be deployed on a large number of aircraft.

In the absence of any identified fault Boeing are continuing to defend the 787 batteries and I read this as Boeing defending both the design of the chosen batteries and their decision to select these for use. They cannot really do anything else since they cannot acknowledge any potential liability while compensation claims are up in the air (or down on the ground may be more appropriate!).

Airbus apparently has developed a Plan B in the event an alternative to lithium-ion batteries must be found for the A350.

Airbus warned about the risks of lithium-ion batteries at a closed meeting of airlines in March 2011, according to a presentation first reported by Reuters this week.

“We identified this fragility at the start of development and we think we resolved it about a year ago,” Bregier said. “Nothing prevents us from going back to a classical plan that we have been studying in parallel.”

But there is a view that the design chosen by Boeing is fundamentally unsound – that the design lends itself to the possibility of thermal runaways with overheating and subsequent fires. If the design itself is flawed and there are better designs available, then Boeing’s decision process which resulted in using a flawed design could be more damaging  than any monetary compensation for the actual groundings. Boeing can ill afford a suggestion that their design or decision process itself is flawed. The current investigation is focused on finding any faults in the units as built and not – yet – on the fundamental design itself.

They can probably absorb the financial hit but my guess is that Boeing will lose considerable ground to the Airbus A350 which could take a long time to recoup.

FlightGlobal: 

The lithium ion batteries installed on the Boeing 787 are inherently unsafe, says Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and owner of electric car maker Tesla.

“Unfortunately, the pack architecture supplied to Boeing is inherently unsafe,” writes Musk in an email to Flightglobal.

“Large cells without enough space between them to isolate against the cell-to-cell thermal domino effect means it is simply a matter of time before there are more incidents of this nature,” he adds.

Both Boeing and Tesla use batteries fueled by lithium cobalt oxide, which is among the most energy-dense and flammable chemistries of lithium-ion batteries on the market. While Boeing elected to use a battery with a grouping of eight large cells, Tesla’s batteries contain thousands of smaller cells that are independently separated to prevent fire in a single cell from harming the surrounding ones.

“Moreover, when thermal runaway occurs with a big cell, a proportionately larger amount of energy is released and it is very difficult to prevent that energy from then heating up the neighboring cells and causing a domino effect that results in the entire pack catching fire,” says Musk.

…. “They [Boeing] believe they have this under control, although I think there is a fundamental safety issue with the architecture of a pack with large cells,” writes Musk in an email. “It is much harder to maintain an even temperature in a large cell, as the distance from the center of the cell to the edge is much greater, which increases the risk of thermal runaway.” 

Musk’s assessments of battery cells were confirmed by Donald Sadoway, a professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I would have used the same words,” says Sadoway. “I’m glad someone with such a big reputation put it on the line.”

“He’s engineered [Tesla’s battery] to prevent the domino effect, while Boeing evidently doesn’t have that engineering,” adds Sadoway. ….. 

787 battery graphic

from Boeing

Design News:

The issue of battery cooling has been at the forefront of the Boeing story for a week. Donald Sadoway, the John F. Elliott professor of materials chemistry at MIT who is involved in a battery startup with Bill Gates, told us last week that a forced air cooling system and sensors may be needed to monitor and cool the battery in the event of overheating. Elton Cairns, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and a fuel cell designer for NASA’s Gemini spaceflights, also suggested that an air- or liquid-cooled system would be necessary.

Surprise! Boeing wins $35 billion tanker order

February 25, 2011

Airbus will no doubt protest but if they really expect to displace Boeing for the US Air Force  tankers they are living in a dream world. They should have seen the writing on the wall when the whole contract was re-tendered even after they had won the order for 179 aircraft in 2008. There is no US politician who would have the courage to place such an order outside of the US.

Bloomberg reports:

Boeing Co., the sole supplier of aerial refueling tankers to the U.S. Air Force since 1948, beat European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co. for a $35 billion program to build 179 new tankers, the Pentagon said yesterday.

It was the Chicago-based company’s third try at the contract since Congress and the Air Force first proposed the tanker replacement program in late 2001 — a contest in which Boeing was viewed as an underdog, said an analyst.

“Boeing’s victory was a major upset, and not at all what the industry was expecting,” Richard Aboulafia, a military aircraft analyst with the Fairfax, Virginia-based Teal Group, said in an e-mail.

Boeing will manufacture basic 767-model aircraft in Everett, Washington, and convert them into tankers in Wichita, Kansas, during the first stage of a three-part Air Force program stretching decades to replace its tanker fleet.

The initial contract for the development phase was valued at $3.5 billion. The entire first phase covers 13 production lots through 2027. The Pratt & Whitney unit of United Technologies Corp. will provide the engines. Boeing says the win will create and sustain 50,000 jobs among 800 suppliers in 40 states.

Related:

$35 billion US tanker decision imminent: Boeing and Airbus prepare to protest a loss

Rolls Royce engine failure will eat up $80 million of Qantas profits

February 17, 2011

Qantas half-year profits have already been hit to the tune of $55 million by the failure of the Rolls Royce Trent 900 and the subsequent grounding of their A380 aircraft in November last year. They also stated that there would be a charge of $ 25 million for the second half-year which gives a total cost to Qantas – for this financial year – of at least $ 80 million.

BBC News:

Qantas Airways said its first half net profits had risen four-fold, but it added that last year’s explosion in one of its Rolls-Royce engines had wiped off $55m (£34.4m). The breakdown led to the grounding of its A380 aircraft last year.

The Australian airline predicted 2011 full year profits would be much higher than last year. But it warned that these would be held back by high fuel prices and the recent floods in Queensland.

Qantas said there would be another $25m charge in the second-half results from the A380 problems.

Rolls Royce has already announced  a hit on profits for direct costs of £56 million (about $89 million) for the engine explosion and related events for the year till December 2010. No doubt the losses suffered by Qantas will be part of their compensation claim against the engine maker.

With compensation claims due also from Airbus (EADS), Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa and with the additional costs spilling over into 2011, the total cost of the engine mishap will likely exceed my estimate of  $300 million.

Estimated costs for Rolls Royce:

  • Direct costs $130 million
  • Indirect (servicing) costs thru 2011 – $50 million
  • Qantas claim – $70 million
  • Airbus claims – $50 million
  • Singapore Airline claims – $25 million
  • Lufthansa claims – $10 million

What impact the loss of potential sales could have is anybody’s guess – but it would be interesting to see if Pratt & Whitney shows a better than expected order intake.

Rolls Royce profits down 76% as Trent 900 costs start to kick in

February 10, 2011

BBC reports:

Manufacturing giant Rolls-Royce has said the mid-air failure of one of its Trent 900 engines on a Qantas superjumbo had led to costs of £56m. The explosion in the engine forced an emergency landing of the A380 in November last year. The one-off cost contributed to annual pre-tax profits dropping 76% to £702m in 2010 from £2.96bn. Foreign exchange costs and interest rate and fuel hedging contracts also contributed to the profit fall.

But the Derby-based company said that underlying pre-tax profits – which strip out one-off costs – were up by 4% to £955m in 2010 and were a better indication of its performance.

Rolls Royce say that the may face further “modest costs” but this seems to be far too optimistic considering that all the engine servicing costs have yet to show up and all the various compensation claims from Qantas, Airbus, Lufthansa, and Singapore Airline will take some time to work their way through. Once all the claims are presented there is an even chance that some will need arbitration before settlement which will take some time.

Jorn Madslien also writes:

Investors will be scrutinising Rolls-Royce’s financial figures to try to find out how the recent engine failure that led to the grounding of six Qantas Airbus A380 aircraft affected the company. ……..

….. The long-term effects of the engine failure, for instance a potential fall in new orders over the months and years ahead, cannot be measured at this stage. Consequently, the final impact on the company’s bottom line is not yet known.

It does not seem as if Rolls Royce have made any provision for further costs which is a little worrying and I stay with my estimate of around $300 million as the total hit that Rolls will have to swallow for the Trent 900 for the A380 in addition to any impact on engine sales.

Judging from the delays the development cost of the Trent 1000 for the Dreamliner is also likely to be significantly more than budgeted or expected.

It will be at least 2012 before the full financial impact is known though some residual impacts will continue for many years.

The wrecked engine after QF32 landed in Singapore in Nov. 2010:Photo: AFP


Indian low-cost carrier signs record Airbus deal, plans to fly overseas routes

January 12, 2011

Bloomberg reports:

IndiGo, the Indian low-cost carrier that agreed to a record plane order, may begin overseas flights in August as economic growth stokes travel in the world’s second-most populous nation. The carrier eventually plans to fly to the Middle East, Southeast Asia and other South Asianations, President Aditya Ghosh said in a phone interview today. The New Delhi-based carrier is unable to start international flights before August because of government regulations.

VT-INA - IndiGo - Airbus A320-232: image PlanespottersNet_026313.jpg

IndiGo may consider sale-and-leaseback deals and debt issuances to help pay for the 180 Airbus SAS A320 planes it has signed a preliminary agreement for, Ghosh said. The aircraft, worth about $15 billion at list prices, will boost the carrier’s fleet as it competes with Air India and Jet Airways India Ltd. in Asia’s second fastest-growing major economy.

The new order, which was announced yesterday, builds on the 100 A320s that IndiGo signed up for in 2005, the year before it began services. The carrier was operating 32 planes at the end of November, according to data on Airbus’ website. The other planes in the initial order for 100 are due to be delivered by 2015, Ghosh said. The airline is a unit of closely held InterGlobe Enterprises Ltd., which also runs hotels and offers technology services…..

Deliveries of the next 180 single-aisle planes will run from 2016 to 2025, Ghosh said. These planes will include 150 of Airbus’s revamped A320, which will be fitted with new engines. The carrier is the first customer for this new version.

Indian carriers are buying aircraft and adding overseas routes as rising wages and trade stoke leisure and business travel. Domestic passenger numbers will likely surge fourfold to 180 million a year by 2020, according to a government forecast…..

Airlines in India have to fly domestically for at least five years before they can start overseas services, under government rules.

Airbus vs. Boeing: or a tale of the marketing of delays and engine problems

November 26, 2010

For large, complex, expensive, high-technology products (airplanes, turbines, power plants or ships for example) it is usually not worth indulging in too much negative marketing based on a competitor’s technical difficulties. Early technical difficulties and “teething” problems are common and when a competitor has difficulties it usually leads to some feeling of satisfaction but it is tempered by the knowledge that one could easily suffer similar difficulties. So when GE experiences some problem with its gas turbines or Areva has delays in its nuclear plants there will never be an overt, negative marketing campaign by Siemens against GE or by Westinghouse against Areva.

File:Airbus A380.jpg

A380: image wikipedia

And this is the current situation between the Airbus A380 and Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. The A380 had its share of delays and was over 2 years late in coming into service. Right now the troubles that Rolls Royce are having with their Trent 900 engines is not helping the A380 image. (There are only two engines available for the A380 but it is noteworthy that the General Electric / Pratt & Whitney Alliance which manufacture the GP7200 engine which competes with the Trent 900 are not indulging in any overt negative marketing). The “Rolls Royce effect” for Airbus is currently negative because of the Trent 900 issues but it is indirectly mitigated by the reports of delays in developing the Trent 1000 which is one of the engines for Boeing’s 787.

File:Boeing 787first flight.jpg

B787 First flight: image Wikipedia

As Airbus fights to get airlines to accept the A380 their “best friend” strangely is the delays to the B787 Dreamliner program. The Dreamliner has been further delayed by an electrical system fault which caused a fire on a test flight in early November. For an airline the decision of choosing between Boeing and Airbus has become not one of comparing the advantages each has to offer but instead one of judging the risk exposure that a choice may bring. It becomes a comparison of potential “downsides” and risk mitigation possibilities rather than selecting between potential “upsides”.

For Airbus and Boeing, their sales processes now have to emphasise the risk mitigation available with their products rather than promoting all the advantages their products have to offer. This is unusual for a “sales process” but nothing new in the history of marketing of technologically new products. But it is not so easy for corporations, their salesmen and for sales processes to shift from promoting advantages to the much more difficult task of showing that the risks (whether of delay or of technical difficulties) they pose are less than that of the competitor. Even in terms of financing, the usual offers of financing and leasing packages for the customer must now additionally address the mitigation of financial and consequential exposures in the event that a risk materialises. When a single A380 costs around $320 million, a Boeing 747-400 about $250 million and a Dreamliner has a price tag of $150 -200 million, then downtime and delays have enormous financial consequences for the customer. Marketing strategy for new products in the face of heightened risk perceptions is quite different to the marketing of “tried and tested” products. But this is a fascinating marketing challenge!

The latest reports of delays to the Dreamliner has led to harsh words about Boeing from a potential customer. CityAM reports:

QATAR Airways has threatened to hand extra business to European aircraft giant Airbus after attacking Boeing over problems with its new 787 Dreamliner. Chief executive Akbar Al Baker said the airline was considering increasing its order for five Airbus A380 super-jumbo planes and might order a re-engined version of the A320 single-aisle jetliner. He did not say how many more A380s it might order.

Qatar has expanded its fleet from four to 94 aircraft in 13 years and has orders for 200 more from Airbus and its US rival Boeing worth $40bn, including 30 Dreamliners. Al Baker said Boeing had “failed” in developing its 787 Dreamliner, which is expected to suffer further delays following a fire on a test flight.

Boeing’s development of the carbon-composite 787 is running around three years late and brokers expect a further delay as it addresses the cause of a fire which led to the test flight being grounded two weeks ago.

But I would expect that there is a strong element of price negotiation in Qatar Airways’ statement!

Rolls Royce kept Airbus and Qantas in the dark about two key engine modifications

November 18, 2010

The CEO of Qantas has revealed that when the Trent 900 engine failed on QF32, shrapnel from the exploding engine narrowly missed the wing fuel tank which could have caused the plane to explode. The Sydney Morning Herald:

SHRAPNEL from the engine explosion on Qantas QF32 severed a fuel pipe and narrowly missed the wing’s fuel tank, according to official preliminary reports. The chief executive, Alan Joyce, also confirmed yesterday that as many as 40 Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines fitted to A380 superjumbos worldwide might have to be replaced.

The reports, seen by the Herald, of the damage incurred on November 4 reveal the extent to which metal components tore through the wing. The debris severed wiring looms, chopping a main fuel pipe, puncturing structural spars and ribs and punching through wing surface panels.

Qantas was ”very, very lucky” that thousands of litres of highly flammable jet fuel in the wings did not ignite from the ruptured fuel pipe or from a spark from severed wiring, said Adrian Mouritz, the head of aerospace and aviation engineering at RMIT University. ”If that fuel ignited, that aircraft would have exploded,” he said.

Qantas and Rolls-Royce are still ”days away” from identifying which engines might have to be replaced. The engine maker had kept the airline and Airbus in the dark about two series of production changes to the engine’s internals.

”What Rolls-Royce have done is that they have modified certain parts of this engine. We and Airbus were not aware of it,” Mr Joyce said.

Further extracts from the official reports and pictures of the damage from

http://blogs.crikey.com.au/planetalking/2010/11/17/the-anatomy-of-the-airbus-a380-qf32-near-disaster/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+CrikeyBlogs+(Crikey+Blogs)&utm_content=Google+Feedfetcher

damage 01

Damage to the wing of QF32

 

The questions for Rolls Royce are multiplying and their lack of communications is astounding. Not only, it seems, did Rolls Royce know about the risks of engine failure before the Trent 900 exploded on QF32, but they have also modified the engine and quietly started introducing the modifications without Qantas and Airbus being aware of the significance or the risks with the unmodified engines!!!!!

https://ktwop.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/did-rolls-royce-know-the-risk-about-the-trent-900-engine-fault-before-the-qantas-failure/

https://ktwop.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/problem-with-trent-900-was-known-before-accident-and-raises-ethical-questions/

Rolls Royce scrambling to find Trent 900 replacement engines

November 17, 2010
Mechanic working on a Rolls Royce Trent 900 en...

Trent 900: image via Wikipedia

Rolls Royce is asking Airbus to return new engines destined for new aircraft so that they can be supplied to Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa for their operations. This in turn is having a knock-on effect on future A380 deliveries.

In the meantime Qantas seems to be having a rash of minor issues which have caused aircraft to return after cockpit fires, bird hits and lightning strikes.

The 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 silent on whether they knew of the Trent 900 problem and the risk for an engine fire prior to the uncontained explosion of an engine on QF32.

Reuters reports on the logistics problems faced by Rolls Royce:

British enginemaker Rolls-Royce has asked Airbus to return Trent 900 engines from A380 superjumbo production lines so they can be used to replace faulty ones on aircraft already in service.

The Airbus A380 — the world’s largest passenger aircraft with an average list price of about $350 million — has been hit by safety concerns after a Rolls-Royce engine partly disintegrated mid-flight, forcing a fully laden Qantas plane to make an emergency landing in Singapore on Nov 4.

Rolls-Royce’s move could be another blow to a much-delayed A380 program as Airbus was scheduled to deliver over a dozen Rolls-Royce-powered A380s — primarily to Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Lufthansa by the end of next year.

“Until this problem is fully resolved I think the situation with the delivery of A380 to customers … will be in jeopardy,” Standard & Poor’s analyst Sukhor Yusof said. But both Singapore Airlines and Qantas, with a combined 22 A380s still to be delivered, said on Tuesday they had not been informed of any delivery delays.

Airlines using the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines have been ordered by European aviation authorities to undertake major tests, which analysts said were so strenuous they would likely disrupt schedules.

“I can confirm that Rolls-Royce is arranging to supply some new engines from the production line to replace some engines removed from the serviced aircraft,” an Airbus spokesman in Singapore said, without saying which airlines would receive those engines.

Shares in Rolls-Royce, which on Friday said fixing the fault would lead to only slightly slower profit growth, have suffered during its probe and were 0.2 percent down at 596.50 pence by 1130 GMT on Tuesday, around 9 percent below their last trade before the Qantas incident. Airbus parent EADS has lost 5 percent since the incident and hit a one-month low on Monday. Its shares were 1.3 percent down at 17.78 euros. Qantas is down 4.9 percent since the incident. Airbus said last week that the problem with the Rolls-Royce engine could have an impact on its earnings and delivery target for 2011 but did not give details, and airlines contacted on Tuesday had no knowledge of delivery timetable changes.

Trent 900: European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) relaxed earlier directive and reduced inspection frequency

November 13, 2010

Now that it seems that the main cause of the uncontained failure of the Trent 900 on Qantas Airbus QF32 has been diagnosed, and that a remedy is being implemented, attention is turning to the Regulators.

In September the FAA issued an Airworthiness Directive (AD) for the Trent 900 based on an AD issued in August by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Since the incident EASA has now issued an Emergency AD regarding the inspection of wear within the Trent 900.

Yesterday  Joerg Handwerg, a spokesman for the pilots’ union for Lufthansa said that minor problems are routine for any jet engine, but it is possible that the issues were an indication that regulators did not adequately check the engine before approving it for commercial use. “When you see we have a problem with not just one of these engines but several then it points towards that we have a problem in the certification process,” Handwerg said.

Today Business Week (carrying an AP report) writes that “Air agency issued engine warning then eased checks”

Three months before a superjumbo jet engine blew apart and forced an emergency landing, European safety regulators had relaxed their inspection order for the same section of the engine implicated in the dangerous mishap. In January, the European Aviation Safety Agency required airlines to inspect for wear on the shaft that holds one of the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine’s turbine discs. The more wear they found, the sooner future inspections would be required.

In August, after Rolls-Royce had inspected several engines, EASA revised its directive. Previously, airlines had to calculate how worn out the part was based on the worst spot. Under the revised directive they calculate the average wear over the entire part. And previously they had to assume the part was wearing out at a worst-case rate. The new rule allows them to calculate the wear rate on each engine. That meant less frequent inspections, which the revised directive said were “sufficient to prevent unacceptable wear.”

The implication here is that the airlines (or Rolls Royce) were finding the inspection regime onerous and EASA responded by rationalising the change to base the frequency of future inspections on “average” wear rather than the “worst case wear” observed. Inspections of course require skilled resources, cost money and increase the down-time of aircraft. It becomes essentially an issue of operational cost. EASA – like all regulators – has to walk the tightrope balancing between public safety interests and the airlines’ need to keep costs reasonable.

Business Week continues that EASA apparently avoided the use of the word “uncontained” in its AD whereas the FAA Directive was more sharply worded:

The European directives warned of the potential for “in-flight shut down, oil migration and oil fire.” The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration went further in adopting a version of the European directive in September, warning of an “uncontained failure of the engine, and damage to the airplane.” Some of the parts inside jet engines rotate faster than the speed of sound. Engines are designed so that even if part of one shatters, pieces of metal aren’t sent rocketing away from the engine. An “uncontained engine failure” with shrapnel-like engine pieces that can damage other parts of the plane is both rare and extremely dangerous.

That’s what happened Nov. 4. Investigators have said that leaking oil caused a fire in the engine of a Qantas A380 that heated metal parts and made the motor disintegrate over Indonesia last week before the jetliner returned safely to Singapore. Experts say the mishap damaged vital systems on the plane, which had been bound for Sydney.

The safety order wasn’t addressing the exact same problem that caused the Qantas engine to disintegrate, but is very similar and involved a turbine next to the one that broke apart, said Chuck Eastlake, a former professor of aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

The decision to relax the EASA order was likely based on inspections that gave engineers confidence that the wear on parts that could cause an oil leak was predictable enough to allow more time to elapse, Eastlake said. In hindsight that appears not to have been the case, he said.

“That kind of stuff is always a judgment call based on experience,” Eastlake said. “It’s hard to specifically justify a decision like that because it isn’t a matter of plugging numbers into a calculator and out comes an answer.”

John Cox, an aviation safety consultant and former airline pilot, said it’s a question of balancing “what is reasonable to ask the airlines to do against safety. The problem is we had a catastrophic failure. It turned out that apparently at least one engine had substantial wear that inspections didn’t pick up,” he said in a telephone interview from London.

No one from EASA was available to talk about the directive late Friday.

The different communications strategies used by the players involved have varied greatly. Rolls Royce have said remarkably little and even their latest statement was baked into a Trading Report for investors. In such a report the objective is to reassure the audience so that share price holds up and doesn’t crash. The conclusions – in consequence – have to be tailored to these objectives.  In this case the focus was on showing that while there will be some costs, profits for the year will not be hit too hard. Investors – and not passengers – were clearly the audience for this Rolls Royce communication and that is of some concern.

The other players – the airlines, Airbus and the Regulators – have all issued communications according to their interests. In fact, the most detailed information about the accident has come from Airbus sources and not from Qantas or from Rolls Royce. But that is coincidental, since clearly Airbus is greatly concerned that the aircraft not be “unfairly” blamed.  Other manufacturers of parts for the Trent 900 have also been quick to point out that “they are not at fault”. Yesterday SKF and Volvo Aero who are both sub-suppliers to Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines rushed to point out that the components they supply were not involved.

But of course the relationship between the airlines and the manufacturers is a symbiotic one. Business Week goes on:

Qantas spokesman Tom Woodward said Qantas has complied with all safety orders. Rolls-Royce Group PLC said in an update to investors Friday that the Qantas engine incident last week was due to failure in a specific component that caused an engine fire and “the release of the intermediate pressure turbine disc.” The company will be replacing the relevant part “according to an agreed program” as inspections on the engine continue in association with aviation regulators, it said. The company did not provide details. The disc, a plate that holds the turbine blades that move air through the motor, broke apart in last week’s mishap. Lufthansa spokesman Thomas Jachnow said the German airline has been told “that Rolls-Royce will gradually replace a modular part of the engine on all Trent 900 engines.” He added that the “exact parts to be replaced haven’t been finalized yet.”

Airbus Chief Operating Officer John Leahy told reporters in Sydney that new versions of the Trent 900 engine that powers the Airbus A380 superjumbo will not suffer from the oil leaks that appear to have caused the fire on the Qantas flight. He said Rolls-Royce was equipping Trent 900s with software that would shut down a motor with leaking oil before it was put at risk of disintegration. Airbus said it planned to take newer versions of the Trent engine off its A380 production line and ship them to Qantas so that the airline could change the engines on some of its superjumbos.

“We think the engines on the production line will be fine,” The Age newspaper of Melbourne, Australia, quoted Leahy as saying. “The new engines should not have that issue … in terms of this one part that seems to have had a problem with leaking oil.”

The Herald Sun of Melbourne reported that Leahy said Rolls-Royce had made changes to some versions of engine to prevent such problems before the Nov. 4 mishap, but Airbus spokesman Justin Dubon denied the report. He said Leahy was referring to changes to the engines being made in light of the mishap.

Leahy, when asked whether he was suggesting that Rolls-Royce knew about problems with the engines before the Qantas incident, said, “Absolutely not,” according to Dubon. Dubon would not comment on whether changes had been made before the Qantas engine disintegrated, or whether the software Leahy described would be installed on engines already in service, referring those questions to Rolls-Royce. Rolls-Royce and the EASA declined repeated requests to comment about Leahy’s remarks.

A mechanic who works for an airline that uses the engine told The Associated Press, however, that Rolls-Royce made modifications to the oil lubrication system on Trent 900s delivered starting in the second half of 2009. The mechanic spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the media. The Qantas flight whose engine blew apart came into service in 2007.

Before last week’s disintegration there were four malfunctions involving Trent 900 engines dating to 2008, three of which centered on the turbines or oil system. All the planes landed safely.

Two of the malfunctions led to EASA warnings, including the directive issued in January and revised in August.

There are three turbines in the Trent 900 engine. The EASA order said wear had been found on parts in the intermediate turbine that could cause an oil leak. The order warned that oil leaking from the intermediate turbine could cause a fire under the adjacent lower turbine, causing the disc in that turbine to fail. Instead, there was an oil fire in the Qantas plane, but it was the intermediate turbine disc that failed. The two turbines are just a few inches apart, said Eastlake, the former aerospace engineering professor.

London-based Rolls-Royce said in an update to investors Friday that the incident will cause full year profit growth “to be slightly lower than previously guided,” but it also said that the company’s other operations will help to offset any losses.

Shares in the company rose after the update — a signal that investors are happy to see a definitive statement after days of silence from the world’s second-biggest engine maker behind General Electric.

There is clearly a need for looking again at the role of Regulators and how they create the balance between “public concern” and the interests of the industry they regulate. This is not unlike the balance in the financial world that regulators and auditors have spectacularly failed to achieve in recent years. This failure has been perhaps the primary cause of the financial crisis.

I cannot help thinking also that when the number of players is limited (as with aircraft suppliers or engine manufacturers) that there is a point beyond which competitive pressure can become counter-productive.



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