Qantas fears engine design fault
Sydney - Qantas said on Friday an engine design fault might have caused a dramatic mid-air emergency involving a flagship Airbus A380 super jumbo, raising possible questions over the giant long-haul plane.
Chief executive Alan Joyce said early signs pointed to a "material failure or a design issue" in the Rolls-Royce engines after one exploded just minutes into flight QF32 from Singapore to Sydney, prompting an emergency landing.
However, Joyce said Qantas's five other A380s - the world's biggest passenger jet - could be back in action within days, after safety checks by Rolls-Royce and Qantas engineers in Los Angeles and Sydney.
"This is an engine issue and the engines were maintained by Rolls-Royce since being installed on the aircraft," Joyce told reporters.
"We believe that this is most likely some kind of material failure or a design issue... we don't believe this is related to maintenance in any way."
Joyce's comments are the clearest insight yet into Thursday's events, when the blast rained engine casing down on an Indonesian town and the super jumbo, carrying 466 people, turned back to Singapore after dumping fuel.
He said that a second engine, next to the one that exploded, would not shut down after the landing, raising further concerns.
The hair-raising incident has thrown the A380 - the mammoth double-decker aircraft vying with Boeing's 787 Dreamliner in the long-haul sector - into the safety spotlight three years after it took to the skies.
Since its 2007 launch, fuel and computer glitches have grounded several A380s and one Air France flight was forced back to New York after problems with its navigation system in November 2009.
A Qantas A380 in April damaged tyres on landing from Singapore in Sydney, causing a shower of sparks.
Joyce said tyres also burst during Thursday's incident, but described that as "not significant".
A team of specialists from Airbus arrived in Singapore on Friday after the European plane maker said it would co-operate fully with French and Australian accident investigators probing the incident.
Joyce and the passengers had glowing praise for unflappable captain Richard Champion de Crespigny, 53, who calmly guided the damaged plane to safety as he reassured passengers over the intercom.
"The pilot and the crew handled this superbly," Joyce said, as one passenger called him "fantastic".
Passengers on the aborted flight resumed their journey to Sydney on Friday after an overnight stay in Singapore.
As well as the 37 A380s now flying commercially, another 234 are on order from airlines, according to Airbus - whose US arch-rival Boeing will launch the smaller 787 Dreamliner next year.