This time last year Europe awoke to images of a rather second-hand looking Qantas Airbus A380 on the runway at Singapore’s Changi airport. The big jet, operating Flight QF32 from London to Sidney via Singapore on 4 November 2010 with 469 souls on board, had made an emergency landing back at Changi after suffering a dramatic uncontained failure of its No 2 Rolls-Royce Trent 900.
The A380′s captain, Capt Richard Champion de Crespigny, described the effect of the engine explosion (caused by the failure of the intermediate pressure turbine (IPT) following an oil fire) to Flightglobal’s David Learmount as follows: “The wing was cluster-bombed. The aircraft had phenomenal damage to all systems. But it didn’t just recover, it performed brilliantly.”
As David explains in his recent blog, while Airbus should be applauded for the fact that the A380 was able to land safely after such a destructive failure, the manufacturer has had to address the overbearing way in which the warning system responded to the problem.
Immediately following the engine failure, Capt de Crespigny and his crew (there were five pilots up front on that eventful day) faced an excessive number of ECAM alerts – more than 60.
Interestingly, the over-talkative nature of the A380′s warning system came up as a criticism of the double-decker in Flight International’s award-winning in-service report Judging A Giant, which was published two years ago.
In the report, Airbus’s executive vice president programmes, Tom Williams, admitted that the A380 crews “have a feeling that the aircraft is talking to them too much – telling them things that are interesting but not really essential”.
SIA’s then senior vice president flight operations, Capt Gerard Yeap, told Flight International that with aircraft systems now able to provide such a raft of data “we have to be careful we don’t have information overload – that we don’t fall into the trap of wanting to know so much you end up not knowing anything”.
Faced with exactly that situation, QF32′s Capt de Crespigny says that he realised, that instead of dealing with the failures, his crew had to determine what was still working.
The collateral damage caused by the accident was huge. Rolls was widely criticised for the way it hunkered down in the wake of the accident and ensuing grounding of the Trent-powered A380 fleet. Indeed it was intriguing – and somewhat unusual – to see the way the airframer swivelled the media spotlight on to its engine supplier which ended up bearing the brunt of the media storm.
The engine problem has had a knock-on effect on A380 deliveries this year, due to the restricted supply of modified Trents. Meanwhile the damaged A380 (VH-OQA) remains in Changi undergoing extensive repairs after a three-digit ($ million) insurance pay-out. The latest estimate is that it will be ready to return to service early in 2012 with what amounts to be a new port wing installed.
But after reading the fir
sthand account of Capt de Crespigny, the industry should definitely be grateful that the “QF32″ incident wasn’t a far more serious event.