Qantas says fleet safe

2010-11-06 07:45

Sydney - Dramatic mid-air engine failures that struck two Qantas aircraft in as many days are unrelated, the airline said on Saturday, adding it was confident of the safety of the planes it is flying.

Qantas grounded its A380 superjumbos on Thursday after one carrying 466 passengers and crew was forced to return to Singapore after an engine exploded during ascent, raining debris onto an Indonesian island.

The 90-year-old airline suffered a second engine failure the following day when a Sydney-bound Boeing 747-400 jumbo carrying 412 passengers and 19 crew experienced problems shortly after take-off from Singapore.

Unlike the A380 engine blast - which sent debris flying, causing damage to the plane's wing - the second incident was a "contained engine failure", Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said.

"We are not concerned about our 747 fleet," he added. "Those engines have a long life... We've seen inflight shut downs take place before... It's...not a safety issue."

He pointed to mechanical failure being the source of the problem, which came six minutes into the flight, causing the engine to emit sparks and smoke, frightening passengers who likened the explosion to fireworks.

Those on board have reported hearing an explosion and seeing flames on one of the engines minutes after take off.

Like fireworks

"It was pretty scary," said Swedish tourist Lisa Ogden. "An engine on the wing exploded. It looked like fireworks, a pretty big one," she told reporters at the airport.

"The plane jumped a bit and the cabin crew were yelling 'crisis' and they told everyone to sit down.

"Some were screaming, one or two got up. It felt like forever but it was one minute then the fire was out," she added.

Asked whether he thought the 747 had been sabotaged, Joyce said: "We do not believe this is sabotage. It looks like a mechanical failure of the engine".

On Friday, Joyce said an engine design fault might have caused the mid-air emergency involving one of the carrier's Airbus A380 super jumbos.

Both planes landed safely in Singapore, with no injuries to any on board.

Qantas has said it will investigate both incidents, and that engine checks were still being carried out on the airline's six A380s, which Joyce said he hoped to have flying again "within days".

Delayed hundreds

The airline has been using other aircraft to pick up passengers booked onto A380s - the world's biggest passenger jets - but the problems have delayed hundreds of passengers in Los Angeles, London and Australia.

The engine failures, which are front page news in Australia, were earlier described as "unrelated incidents" by Qantas spokesperson Olivia Wirth.

Wirth said while both aircraft operated on Rolls Royce manufactured engines, the planes involved had different models and there was no apparent connection.

The spokesperson said travellers should feel "absolutely safe" on Qantas, despite the recent problems.

"Safety is at the heart of our business, we take these issues very, very seriously," Wirth told Channel Nine.

But the latest incidents come after a Qantas Boeing 747 engine failed on a flight from San Francisco to Sydney in late August, blowing a hole in the engine casing and forcing an emergency landing.

Australian investigators reported last month that one of the four engines on that plane, which was carrying 213 passengers and 18 crew, ruptured through the left and right sides of its turbine case, ejecting debris which hit the wing.

The bureau said its investigation into the flight, which landed safely at San Francisco International Airport with no reports of injuries after the failed engine was shut down, was continuing.

Qantas, known as the 'Flying Kangaroo' has never had a fatal jet liner crash in 90 years.

Celebrations to mark its birthday began in Sydney on Saturday.