Trent 900 shortage finally hits A380 operators

VHOQCno3engine.JPGThe no. 3 engine on Qantas A380 VH-OQC was one engine that needed to be replaced. Here in Sydney on 6 November engineers prepare to demount it. Photo: Will Horton

Almost a month ago when Qantas first said it would have to change engines on its A380s in the wake of the 4 November uncontained failure, my colleagues and I began wondering how long it would take until there was a shortage of Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines, one of two powerplant options for the A380, and the sole supplier for A380s from Lufthansa, Qantas, and Singapore Airlines.

That time is now.

Qantas says it has two A380s that could return to service if there were enough unaffected (“clean” in QF32 parlance) Trent 900s.

The carrier managed to bring two of its six A380s back to service by pooling unaffected engines. That entailed demounting affected engines and replacing them with unaffected engines demounted from other aircraft–musical engines, if you will. Qantas will not say exactly how many engines it had to do this to in order to get those first two A380s in the air.

Now the carrier is battling geography. Its four other A380s are on four separate continents. The damaged aircraft remains in Singapore, one is undergoing a scheduled C check in Germany, and two aircraft that could return to service are in Los Angeles and Sydney.

With the A380 unable to “fifth pod” a spare engine, unlike the 747 for example, there is no way for the carrier to easily transport these huge engines that are 116 inches in diameter and weighing 14,190 pounds. A Rolls-Royce brochure boasts the engine is the only A380 powerplant that can fit in a 747-400F.

Qantas was not oblivious to this problem developing, and within 72 hours of the incident was already considering pooling engines.

After Lufthansa replaced one engine it came to our understanding the German carrier would “struggle to carry out another engine change”.

Airbus has offered to demount engines from aircraft in production so the freed engines can be swapped onto aircraft already in service. Qantas has four aircraft in production and is considering Airbus’s offer. Two of those aircraft are due for delivery this month and Airbus says under its offer it would demount engines on aircraft farthest off from being delivered, so it’s unlikely these two aircraft will see their engines demounted.

A Qantas spokesman pithily said, “It’s clear Rolls needs to be able to provide replacement engines.”

How Rolls will balance in-service aircraft lacking engines and forthcoming aircraft that airlines want delivered on time will be one more challenge for the beleaguered manufacturer.

If Rolls stays on track with future deliveries it could upset engine-less Qantas even more. If Rolls tries to appease Qantas by changing the current A380 delivery schedule, other airlines could stand to be impacted. Perhaps Rolls-Royce’s decision will boil down to if it thinks it has any future business left with Qantas.

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