Rolls-Royce speaks out after more Qantas engine problems

After months of saying little in the wake of the engine explosion on Qantas Airbus QF32 last November, Rolls-Royce faced questions at its stand at the Avalon air show.

Meanwhile, Qantas A380 engines have experience two similar oil problems in recent weeks, with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigating the latest incident where a jet experienced a partial power loss on February 24.

Qantas said both leaks last month affected different parts of the engine than those involved in the November explosion.

The airline has raised the issue with Rolls-Royce and is awaiting feedback, it said in an. The engine maker is working with Qantas, David Mair, a spokesman for London-based Rolls-Royce, said by phone.

Rolls-Royce Australia Services' chief executive Andrew Dudgeon spoke to Fairfax Media for the first time, defending how the British company handled the fallout from the November 4 mid-air engine explosion on a Qantas A380 carrying 469 people over Batam Island.

Mr Dudgeon, who is the company's local executive engaged in negotiations with Qantas over compensation, said reports that Rolls-Royce already knew it had a problem with the Trent 900 engine were incorrect.

"It's a fallacy to say we knew there was a problem with the engine," Mr Dudgeon said at the company's exhibitors' stand at the airshow. "There was no known problem with the A380 engine."

But when pressed about the details of the two subsequent modifications made to the original engine design certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency, and when or whether those modifications were sent for re-certification to assure their safety, Mr Dudgeon said these were engineering details he did not know.

"Nothing flies without certification," the former Qantas executive, pilot and Australian Defence Force brigadier offered. Modifications were "continually" introduced as new ways of doing things were devised and were retrofitted back into engines, he said.


But the company had moved swiftly by dedicating 350 of its engineers to find the source of the engine explosion, he said.

"We had the [turbine] disc back at Derby (in the United Kingdom) for analysis within two days.

"We investigated, isolated and fixed the problem," he said.

The problem that caused the uncontained Trent 900 engine explosion on QF32 was unrelated to the oil problem on a Qantas A380 on February 15, en route to London that led to a partial power loss, he said.

"It was only a very small oil leak," he said. "It did not require an engine shutdown."

But Australia's air safety investigators have launched a further inquiry after another Qantas A380 suffered a similar partial power loss on February 24 over decreasing engine oil levels.

Australia's air safety investigators found a fire from leaking oil led to the QF32 engine explosion, traced to a badly manufactured oil stub pipe.

Qantas estimates the cost on its business at $80 million, excluding brand damage, and "at least" $100 million in damage to the aircraft and engine repairs (covered by insurance or Rolls-Royce).

Mr Dudgeon said the company was "close to settlement" with Qantas, but declined to indicate a ballpark compensation figure.

When asked about whether Rolls-Royce was prepared for compensation claims from the insurers for Airbus and Qantas, Mr Dudgeon said he was unaware that such claims might be made.

"I've not heard that at all," he said.

He defended the company remaining publicly tight-lipped about the QF32 engine explosion until the facts were known.

"We report to our customer, Qantas," he said.

The Trent family of engines had flown 38 million hours and the company had not had an uncontained disc failure since 1994, he said.

He branded some media reports about the QF32 incident as "scaremongering" that "doesn't help anyone".

with Bloomberg