Posts Tagged ‘Rolls-Royce plc’

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

November 15, 2010

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).

Trent 900: Rolls Royce and Airbus statements

November 12, 2010

Trent 900 update

Friday, 12 November 2010

Rolls-Royce is now in a position to provide an update on its statement of 8 November concerning the engine failure on the Trent 900 powered A380 Qantas flight QF32 on 4 November 2010.

Immediately following this incident a regime of engine checks was introduced on the Trent 900s to understand the cause and to ensure safe operation. These have been conducted in parallel with a rigorous examination of all available evidence, including data from the damaged engine and its monitoring system, analysis of recovered material and interrogation of the fleet history.

These investigations have led Rolls-Royce to draw two key conclusions. First, as previously announced, the issue is specific to the Trent 900. Second, the failure was confined to a specific component in the turbine area of the engine. This caused an oil fire, which led to the release of the intermediate pressure turbine disc.

Rolls-Royce continues to work closely with the investigating authorities.

Our process of inspection will continue and will be supplemented by the replacement of the relevant module according to an agreed programme.

These measures, undertaken in collaboration with Airbus, our Trent 900 customers and the regulators have regrettably led to some reduction in aircraft availability. This programme will enable our customers progressively to bring the whole fleet back into service.

Safety continues to be Rolls-Royce’s highest priority.

This undated image provided by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau shows a jagged and bent piece of a turbine disc from a Qantas superjumbo Rolls-Royce engine that exploded Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is leading an international investigation into the blowout on the world's newest and largest airliner, appealed for help from residents of Indonesia's Batam island to find the missing chunk of a turbine disc. (AP Photo/ATSB) EDITORIAL USE ONLY - No Sales

image provided by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau shows a jagged and bent piece of a turbine disc from a Qantas superjumbo Rolls-Royce engine that exploded Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010. (AP Photo/ATSB)

Rolls Royce does not identify the faulty component in its stement but there are reports that it was a faulty bearing box from Airbus.

Washington Post:

An Airbus executive said Friday that Rolls-Royce has identified a faulty bearing box as the cause of the oil leak problem implicated in the midair disintegration of an engine on one of the world’s largest airliners, an Australian newspaper reported.

Airbus Chief Operating Officer John Leahy told reporters in Sydney that Rolls-Royce had at some point fixed the bearing box on newer versions of the massive Trent 900 engine, a model designed for the massive A380 superjumbo. He said Rolls was now fixing it on older versions. The Herald Sun reported his comments on its website. His comments did not address why Rolls-Royce had not fixed the bearing box in older versions of the engine. Airbus did not elaborate and Rolls-Royce declined to comment on his remarks.

The box in question contains the metal ball bearings that allow movement of the drive shaft that spins the turbines inside jet engines. 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, sending shrapnel into the wing and cutting vital safety systems before the jetliner landed safely in Singapore. They have focused on broken pieces of the engine’s heavy turbine disc, a plate that holds the turbine blades that move air through the motor. Engines on the A380 malfunctioned four times before the disintegration on the flight from Singapore to Sydney. All of the planes landed safely.

The problems dating to 2008 led to two warnings for airlines to check parts of the Trent 900. Three of the four problems centered on the turbines or oil system. Rolls-Royce Group PLC said in an update to investors Friday that the disintegration of the Qantas engine resulted from a problem in a specific component in the Trent 900, but it did not provide details. “The failure was confined to a specific component in the turbine area of the engine. This caused an oil fire, which led to the release of the intermediate pressure turbine disc,” Rolls-Royce said.

The statement supports a report from the European Aviation Safety Agency, which issued an emergency order Thursday requiring airlines to re-examine their Trent 900s and ground any planes with suspicious leaks.

Leahy said the new models of the Trent 900 had been redesigned to eliminate the problem of excess oil causing turbine fires. He said that Rolls-Royce was retrofitting the older versions with new parts to stop the oil leaks and computer software that would shut down an engine with leaking oil before it was put at risk of disintegration. “In the future the computer will have software that can identify a problem at the outset and it will shut down an engine before a turbine disc can go out of control and come apart,” Leahy told the Herald Sun. Leaks or oil stains have been discovered on six of the total of twenty A380s operated by Qantas, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines that use the Trent 900, a technologically advanced model designed to be lighter, quieter and more efficient than older engines. Qantas and Singapore Airlines have grounded nine of the world’s largest airliner between them while Germany’s Lufthansa has already replaced an engine on one of its A380s.

Rolls-Royce’s chief executive said the company will be replacing the relevant part to enable its customers to bring the whole fleet back into service. Airbus will take Rolls-Royce engines off the final assembly line in Toulouse, France, and send them to Qantas “so we can get Qantas back up and flying,” the Airbus press office said. The disintegration on the Qantas A380 was far more serious than the airline has implied in its public statements, however, experts said.

Damage from engine shrapnel to the wing over the engine occurred very close to the wing’s front spar, one of two support beams in the wing that attach the wing to the plane, said John Goglia, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board and an expert on airline maintenance. If the shrapnel had hit the spar it could possibly have weakened the spar and even have caused the wing to fall off, he said.

As it was, the shrapnel appears to have damaged electrical cables and hydraulic lines inside the wing, Goglia said. Pilots were unable to close the landing gear doors, an indication of hydraulic damage, and had difficulty shutting down the engine next to the engine that disintegrated, an indication of an electrical problem, he said. The A380 has four engines.

Photos and video of the incident and its aftermath show the shrapnel clearly ruptured a hydraulic line and an electric line in the wing, cutting off the pilots’ control of half the brake flaps and the remaining engine on the affected wing, along with the door of the landing-gear compartment, said Joerg Handwerg, a spokesman for the pilots’ union for Lufthansa.

In its trading update Friday, London-based Rolls-Royce said 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. Back in July, the company said that its underlying profits would grow by 4-5 percent compared to 2009.

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 and one of the last globally important industrial manufacturing companies in Britain.

Rolls-Royce shares were up 4 percent at 607.5 pence ($9.74) in midmorning trade on the London Stock Exchange.

Handwerg 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.

 

Qantas pushes its Trent 900 engines harder than other airlines

November 9, 2010

It would seem that while there may well be a fundamental issue with the Trent 900 as used by Qantas, the manner in which Qantas operates the engines may be a significant contributing factor. Sources indicate that Qantas run their engines “harder” than the other Trent 900 users (Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa) primarily, it seems, for economic reasons. Competitive pressures on airlines as well as those on the engine makers may be coming into play.

Reuters:

 

Qantas cracking the whip too hard? (image:aerospaceweb.org)

 

Qantas Airways  is reviewing the way it operates its A380 planes after last week’s engine blowout, a source said on Tuesday, amid reports that it worked its Rolls-Royce  engines harder than other airlines.

Qantas operates its A380 engines at higher thrust levels, which could result in resonating vibrations that cause oil lines to crack, The Australian newspaper said. The higher maximum thrust setting is used on some Qantas A380 take-offs on long-haul routes between Los Angeles, Sydney and Melbourne than other operators such as Singapore Airlines, the daily said, quoting unnamed engineers. However, the extra thrust setting of 72,000 pounds remained 3,000 pounds below the engine’s design limits and within operating guidelines, it added.

Chief Executive Alan Joyce said on Monday that its engines had a “slightly higher level of power” than those used in Singapore Airlines or Lufthansa planes, but they were certified to operate at those levels. The way Qantas operated the engines was part of a wider review, said an airline source, who was not authorised to talk publicly about the matter. “The operations are one of the things Qantas are reviewing along with the components,” said the source.

Qantas, which declined to comment on the report, said on Friday it suspected a material failure or a design issue may have caused last Thursday’s engine failure over Indonesia which forced the aircraft to make an emergency landing in Singapore.

Internecine litigation: Pratt & Whitney counter-sue Rolls Royce

November 5, 2010

Bloomberg reports:

United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney jet-engine unit filed patent-infringement complaints against Rolls-Royce Group Plc, a counterpunch in a dispute that may affect delivery of Boeing Co.’s Dreamliner airplanes.

Pratt & Whitney said it filed a complaint today at the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington that claims the Trent 900 and Trent 1000 model engines made by London-based Rolls-Royce are infringing a patent for a swept-fan blade. A complaint making similar allegations was filed at the U.K. High Court in London, according to the company.

That the timing of the filing is unconnected and entirely coincidental with the current technical issues faced by Rolls Royce on their Trent 900 and 1000 engines is possible but unlikely. I am sure Pratt & Whitney’s lawyers are perfectly aware of the advantages of hitting an opponent when he is down.

 

File:Great Game cartoon from 1878.jpg

The Great Game: wikimedia

 

Bloomberg continues:

A ruling in favor of Pratt & Whitney by the ITC would mean Rolls-Royce would be blocked from shipping engines for Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, now in the final stages of flight testing. The U.K. lawsuit may limit shipments for the Airbus SAS A380, now in use by international carriers including Qantas Airways Ltd., and the Airbus A350XWB model powered solely by another version of the Trent engine.

“Pratt & Whitney’s case is very strong and we were left with no choice but to take these actions in light of Rolls- Royce’s aggression,” said Katy Padgett, a spokeswoman for East Hartford, Connecticut-based Pratt & Whitney. “We regret that these actions are necessary, and we continue to be willing to discuss a mutually acceptable resolution to this dispute.”

The complaints escalate a legal battle that started when Rolls-Royce sued Pratt & Whitney in May, claiming the GP7200 Fan Stage infringed a patent for a design that gives the largest part of a jet engine greater resistance to damage by foreign objects, more stability and lower noise levels. It later added Pratt’s Geared TurboFan engines, as Airbus and Boeing consider getting more efficient engines on the bestselling A320 and 737 planes.

Patent infringements must no doubt be fought but an internecine battle of this kind among the few engine manufacturers left may lead to some immediate competitive advantages to one or the other, but in the long-term could damage the entire industry to the ultimate detriment of the the consumers. The dispute has the potential of delaying engines to a variety of aircraft and to a number of airlines.

Rolls Royce and EADS shares take a beating

November 4, 2010

London South East reports on the aftermath of Qantas grounding its A 380 fleet and Singapore Airlines delaying all A 380 flights for extra checks of the their Trent 900 engines:

Shares in Rolls-Royce fall 3.2 percent after Qantas Airways suspends flights of its Airbus A380 fleet after the failure of a Rolls Trent 900 engines triggers an emergency landing in Singapore.

Shares in Airbus parent EADS were 3.7 percent down after what is one of the most serious incidents for the world’s largest passenger plane in three years of commercial flight.

‘If it is a design fault on the engines it would be embarrassing because Rolls is the number two engine manufacturer in the world and has a fantastic reputation,’ says BGC Partners senior strategist Howard Wheeldon.

‘These type of things take a fairly lengthy time to investigate,’ he said, adding that ‘it will be costly to address those issues’ if it is a serious fault with the engine.

The intense competition between the two engines for the A 380, the Trent 900 and its rival the GP7200 manufactured by the General Electric/Pratt & Whitney Engine Alliance is centred around fuel efficiency. The GP7200 is generally thought to have a 1% advantage. It also seems to be the strategy for the U.S. engine makers to constantly maintain this performance gap over their competitor as each tries to improve performance.

From Aviation Week:

Of course Rolls-Royce disputes the existence of that fuel-burn performance lead and says its improvement plan for the Trent 900EP (enhanced performance) will lead to more substantial efficiency modifications by around 2013. Still in the early stages, these plans will incorporate advanced technology from the most recent iterations of the Boeing 787’s Trent 1000 and the Trent XWB for the A350.

The core of the package will be the introduction of elliptical leading-edge modifications throughout the entire compression system, including improved high- and intermediate-pressure (HP/IP) compressor blades and vanes. The modification, which also applies to the fan and outlet guide vanes, improves flow interactions by altering boundary layer thickness and increasing laminar flow. The changes are similar to elliptical leading-edge modifications made to the HP compressor introduced recently to International Aero Engines’ V2500 in the SelectOne program, as well as the Trent 700EP. The elliptical feature also is part of the baseline fan design for the Trent 1000 and XWB.

“The package includes tweaks to the air management system, and that also affects fuel burn,” says Crawford. “We’re very confident in being able to achieve the 1% post-2011. The program is already defined, the detailed design is being done and bits are in manufacture. Testing is next year and will cover maturity modifications to upgrade areas we’ve seen on early engines.” These include “potential ‘wear out’ areas we want to address, such as seal segments and optimized tip clearance.”

As with the Trent 700EP, the 900EP enhancement will be offered as an upgrade kit for existing engines. “The modifications are all optional and are completely interchangeable. You will get the full 1% if you install all the parts,” says Richard Keen, Airbus programs marketing director. “From 2011 this will be the production standard for all new Trent 900 orders,” he adds.

With the problems being experienced by the Trent 900 and also with the Trent 1000 for Boeing’s Dreamliner, one obvious question is whether the cut-throat competition for fuel efficiency is leading to a trade-off between efficiency on the one hand and reductions in clearances and compromises on wear considerations on the other.


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