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Qantas A380 engine emergency casts scrutiny on Airbus superjumbo jets

An Airbus A380 operated by Qantas blew out an engine shortly after taking off from Singapore Thursday in the most serious incident involving the world’s biggest jetliner since its launch in 2007.

By Anita ElashCorrespondent, Staff writer / November 4, 2010

A Qantas A380 taxis after being grounded at Sydney airport on Nov. 4. Qantas Airways suspended flights of its Airbus A380 fleet on Thursday after engine failure triggered an emergency landing in Singapore, one of the most serious incidents for the world's largest passenger plane in three years of commercial flight.

Daniel Munoz/Reuters


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Qantas and Singapore Airlines have grounded their fleets of Airbus A380 airliners after one of the jets operated by Qantas blew out an engine, shooting flames and dropping large metal chunks.

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Although the incident ended without injury, it is drawing close scrutiny as the most serious mid-air emergency for the world's largest jetliner, a superjumbo that can seat 525 people.

The trouble aboard the Qantas flight started six minutes after it left Singapore on its way to Sydney. The pilot dumped fuel over Indonesia before returning to Singapore’s Changi Airport. When the jetliner landed, it appeared that casing from its number two engine was missing and parts of the engine were blackened. None of the 433 passengers or 26 crewmembers were hurt.

It was the most serious incident involving an A380 since the launch of the jetliner in 2007. Qantas immediately grounded its fleet of A380s. Singapore Airlines followed suit a few hours later, saying it would conduct technical safety checks on the advice of Airbus and Rolls-Royce, the maker of the Trent 900 engine that failed. Not all A380s use that engine.

Continuing flights

Three other airlines that operate the A380 – Air France, Emirates, and Lufthansa – said they will continue flights as scheduled.

Air safety experts say they expect investigators to determine fairly quickly what caused the engine failure. But at least for now, the incident has raised questions about the safety of A380s using the Trent 900 engines.

"It's very unusual to get an uncontained engine failure," says William Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, a nonprofit group near Washington. "It's serious."

The problem was "uncontained" in that pieces of the engine went flying, some falling to the ground and some apparently puncturing a wing of the aircraft.

Still, Mr. Voss says that advances in engine design make more-severe outcomes unlikely. Latest-generation jet engines tend to be "extremely reliable," he says, even as they use advanced materials to operate at high temperatures and increase fuel efficiency.