NEW YORK – Qantas Airways Ltd. and Singapore Airlines grounded their Airbus A380 fleets on Thursday after the engine of one of the flagship jetliners blew apart in flight, forcing it to make an emergency landing.
It’s the third emergency involving the A380 and its Rolls-Royce engines in just more than a year, and raised concerns that Rolls-Royce will have to shuffle its engineering resources – potentially leading to further delays in Airbus A350-XWB development program.
The A350-XWB is Airbus’s next-generation, twin-aisle aircraft, and uses Rolls-Royce engines exclusively.
Shares of EADS, the parent company of Airbus, fell 3.4 percent in Paris on Thursday, while shares of Rolls-Royce declined 5 percent in London.
In the latest incident, a Qantas jet suffered the failure of one of its four engines as it departed Singapore for Sydney with 433 passengers and 26 crew on board.
The plane returned to Singapore and neither passengers nor crew were hurt in the incident. A Qantas spokeswoman told Sky News that the airline wasn’t aware of any casualties from any falling debris.
Qantas, which operates six A380s, said the suspension will remain in effect until the outcome of an investigation into the incident. Singapore Airlines flies 11 such planes.
Australia-based Qantas has ordered a total of 20 A380s from Airbus, making it the second-largest customer of the superjumbo behind Dubai-based carrier Emirates, according to its website.
In September 2009, a Singapore Airlines A380 bound for Asia had to return to Paris after one of its engines failed. In August, a Lufthansa jet flying from Tokyo to Frankfurt shut down one of its engines because of a loss of oil pressure.
Grounding its A380 fleet could have significant financial repercussions for Qantas and Singapore, depending how long the investigation takes.
The huge aircraft can fly up to 500 people, so finding enough seats for stranded passengers will likely be difficult and may result in cancellations.
“Qantas is willing to put safety before any commercial considerations,” the carrier’s chief executive, Alan Joyce, said at a news conference in Sydney.
Joyce added that Qantas is working closely with the plane’s manufacturers, which dispatched a team of specialists.
Engine failures don’t occur often and are rarely fatal, as pilots are trained to fly on the remaining engines and are usually able to make emergency landings.
Of the other airlines operating the A380 – Emirates, Qatar Airways, Lufthansa and Air France-KLM – none is grounding its own fleet.
Howard Wheeldon, a strategist at BGC Partners and longtime aerospace observer, said that it is “normal practice” for other airlines to keep flying their aircraft unless otherwise advised by the plane or the engine manufacturer.
He also stressed the incident doesn’t mean there is something intrinsically wrong with the engine, as the failure could have been caused by birds or debris hitting the aircraft, or stem from a problem with fuel, pumps or lubricant.
Wheeldon concluded that the incident is unlikely to harm A380 sales, though it is bad news for a program already dogged by production delays and cost overruns.