Airbus notes Australian safety concerns with Rolls-Royce

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European plane maker Airbus said on Thursday it was aware of safety concerns with Rolls-Royce engines voiced by Australian authorities, who have reported a potentially "catastrophic" problem with one of the engines.

Rolls-Royce provides the engines for the Airbus A380, the world's biggest civilian airliner, on one of which -- operated by Australian carrier Qantas -- an engine exploded on a flight over Indonesia on November 4 forcing the aircraft to return to Singapore trailing smoke.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said on Thursday that a misaligned component had thinned the wall of an oil pipe in the engine, causing "fatigue cracking" that prompted leakage and a fire "central to the engine failure" on November 4.

"This condition could lead to an elevated risk of fatigue crack initiation and growth, oil leakage and potential catastrophic engine failure from a resulting oil fire," the ATSB said, noting it was "understood to be related to the manufacturing process."

The Bureau directed Rolls-Royce to "address the safety issue and take actions necessary to ensure the safety of flight operations in transport aircraft equipped with Rolls-Royce Trent 900 series engines."

Airbus in a statement later on Thursday said: "We confirm that we are aware that the ATSB have issued a safety recommendation regarding the RR Trent 900 engine.

"Airbus is continuing to work closely with the ATSB, affected customers and RR in order to minimise any disruption.

"For Airbus safety is the number one priority and we believe the various engine inspections that have been put in place by RR (Rolls-Royce) allow for the continued safe operation of the Trent 900-powered fleet."

Qantas, which initially grounded all six of its Airbus superjumbos after the blast over Indonesia, said it would immediately conduct further engine investigations as a result of the findings but stressed this was a precaution and there was "no immediate risk to flight safety."

The airline added that it had begun court proceedings to allow it to pursue legal action against Rolls-Royce if necessary but was also pursuing talks with the British company on the impact on operations of the engine problem.

The ATSB findings came just five days after Qantas resumed A380 flights, though the carrier has barred the superjumbo from trans-Pacific trips to Los Angeles due to the extra engine thrust required.

© 2010 AFP

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