More questions than answers with Qantas resuming A380 flights to LAX

Qantas’s announcement today that following the removal of thrust limitations it will resume limited LAX A380 flights on 16 January with QF93 departing MEL for LAX leaves more questions than answers.

The only answer we have is ‘when’: when Qantas will resume A380 trans-Pacific flights. Missing is the more critical ‘how’.

That flight from MEL is the only initial one Qantas has pegged. It’s a token flight. For the rest of the month, besides MEL/SYD-SIN-LHR flights, Qantas will only operate four weekly A380 flights to SYD. A spokesman says A380 LAX-MEL flights will more regularly resume in early February but could not explain the delay.

Update: The spokesman says “the focus on Sydney is for commercial reasons, not any limitation on operating the aircraft to/from Melbourne.”

The significance of the LAX flights is that they typically requires full thrust on the Trent 900. After the November QF32 uncontained engine failure, thrust limitations were put in place. (see: http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2010/12/14/350900/a380-flights-to-los-angeles-unprofitable-with-trent-900s.html)

The thrust limitations were implemented as applying the 72,000lb maximum thrust exposes the Trent 900 to reaching 540 psi at P30 (a measurement point).

This thrust derate helps “reduce the engine pressure ratio in the ‘P30′ area of the engine and therefore increase the life of the oil transfer tubes within the HP/IP support structure”, Qantas’s affidavit against Rolls-Royce says.

Qantas’s claim says a defect rendered “an oil supply tube in the HP/IP support structure susceptible to breaking or cracking during high severity exposure and leading to the possibility of an oil leak and a resulting oil fire in the engine”.

(For more information, see: http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2010/12/14/350901/high-thrust-trent-900s-limited-to-75-flight-cycles.html)

A Rolls-Royce spokesperson says today, “All engine thrust restrictions have now been removed in agreement with Airbus, our airline customers and the regulators.”

Missing is what has changed that allows the thrust limitations to be removed. Lacking information is a familiar story in the Trent 900 affair.

Are there no longer concerns about the Trent 900 reaching 540 psi at P30 or has there been a modification? Is there now a D mod?

Update: The Qantas spokesman says there have been “no changes to the engines other than the modifications, software upgrades, engine replacements and AD compliance etc that has been taking place since November.”

He adds Qantas now only operates B and C mod versions of the Trent 900 whereas last year the carrier primarily operated A and B mod versions.

Resumption of A380 services to LAX comes after “operational assessment” with Rolls-Royce and CASA of the London flights Qantas resumed in late November, he says.

Are A mod Trent 900s still a no-go?

Why are trans-Pacific Melbourne flights absent, except for 16 January, on the resumption schedule?

And the big question underpinning all of this is what Rolls-Royce did and did know and what actions they did and did not take that could have prevented the uncontained engine failure.

I ask publicly as the answers may not come for some time.

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3 Responses to More questions than answers with Qantas resuming A380 flights to LAX

  1. Glen Towler January 11, 2011 at 6:26 am #

    The main stream media quoted Qantas as saying that the A380 is resuming flight nothing about all the restrictions on thrust settings. Its good to know the whole truth saying that lots of unanswered questions and no one seems to want to answer just yet.

  2. Will Horton January 11, 2011 at 6:49 am #

    Hi Glen,

    It’s important to note the thrust limitations have now been removed. Why they have been removed remains the question.

    Cheers,
    Will

  3. Michele January 11, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    I am one of the “lucky” people scheduled to fly LAX-SYD on the A380 on January 16th. I’ve been following this whole debacle ever since the November incident and I sure would feel a whole lot safer if I know what exactly was done to make the engine safe again.

    Qantas and the A380 were my first choice when I booked my trip, and I actually added a considerable amount of flight time to my journey in order to fly the A380 instead of flying directly into New Zealand. I have been regretting my decision since November. Qantas needs some lessons in customer service. Basic customer service 101 is to listen to the customer and address his/her concerns. Not with Qantas. The “rules” Qantas seems to have followed throughout this ordeal is to end the call as quickly as possible. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told by their reps that Qantas has the best safety record of any major airline and that they have never had a crash.I have been lied to by Qantas reps on the phone and given the wrong information, and when I asked to speak to a supervisor the last time I called I had to repeat myself six times and then finally almost YELL before I was transferred to one- after putting me on hold for 20 minutes.

    I’ll be following this blog and hoping some concrete facts about why the A380 is suddenly safe emerge before I put my life in their hands on Sunday evening.

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