Qantas Airways will not be able to operate any of its Airbus A380s profitably on the Sydney-Los Angeles route if it uses its existing Rolls-Royce Trent 900 powerplants, says the carrier in a statement of claim against the engine manufacturer.

The carrier, which filed the claim in the Federal Court of Australia on 2 December, says each A380 would be able to carry only 80 passengers, instead of 450, on the route due to thrust limitations on the engines.

Qantas filed the claim almost a month after one of its A380s experienced an uncontained engine failure on 4 November, resulting in an emergency landing at Singapore. The court has granted the carrier an injunction, which allows it to pursue legal action against Rolls-Royce if a commercial settlement is not possible.

In its statement, Qantas alleges that it was advised by Rolls-Royce to not use any "mod B" or "mod C" Trent 900 engines if they had been operated more than 75 times at the maximum thrust level of 72,000lb.

Rolls-Royce, which recommended measures to "minimise the severity of engine operation", allegedly told the carrier that earlier "mod A" engines should not be utilised at all.

To keep to the thrust limitations, the carrier would have to ensure that its A380 aircraft carries a payload of no more than 30,000 kg if departing Los Angeles International Airport on runway 25L, or 20,000kg if departing the shorter 24L runway.

This would make it "uncommercial" for Qantas to operate its Trent 900 powered A380s on the route as "operation at that reduced level involves a reduction in carrying capacity such that typically only 80 passengers will be able to be transported", says the airline.

Before the 4 November incident prompted a grounding of Qantas' A380 fleet, a typical A380 flight operating from Los Angeles to Sydney or Melbourne carried up to 450 passengers and freight, it adds.

Qantas alleges that Rolls-Royce may have been "misleading or deceptive" in its representations when it proposed its Trent 900 powerplant to the carrier.

The airline says that the engine manufacturer had given the representation that "the A380 aircraft operated by Qantas could, if powered by Trent 900 engines, be operated regularly and reliably on Qantas' existing international routes (including the LAX routes) with a profitable payload and without the engines having to be replaced at any point before the end of the projected useful engine life".

Qantas says that in Rolls-Royce's engine manuals for the Trent 900, the "mod A" engine was listed as having a life cycle of 2000 flight cycles, and the "mod B" 14,800 flight cycles. The "mod C" variant was believed to have an unlimited life cycle, says the carrier.

Alleging that Rolls-Royce was negligent in its duties, the carrier says the engine manufacturer "ought to have known and understood that the most important aspect of the A380 aircraft economics was the payload that the A380 aircraft would be able to carry on the LAX routes".

When contacted for comment, a Rolls-Royce spokeswoman says: "We continue to work closely with Qantas on operational and commercial matters but it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage."

Qantas' spokesman says there is "no timeframe for when Rolls-Royce might provide further advice" regarding flights to Los Angeles. "We are keen to resume LAX flying, but will only do so once we are absolutely confident that it is safe to do so. Further information from Rolls-Royce will obviously be critical to that process," he adds.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news