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Qantas gradually gets A380s airborne again

A vigorous engine check regime and voluntary adoption of some operational restrictions on engine performance is getting Qantas's Airbus A380 fleet back in the skies. Six aircraft were grounded after the 4 November uncontained failure of a Rolls-Royce Trent 900 forced flight QF32 to Sydney to return to Singapore.

The first Qantas A380 scheduled service following the grounding was set for 27 November - flight QF31 from Sydney to London via Singapore - a week after the airline had declared it would keep its fleet grounded until Rolls-Royce came up with a fix for the oil leak problem that is believed to have caused the uncontained failure.

Of its resumption of service, Qantas says: "The decision to restore A380 services follows an intensive Trent 900 engine inspection programme carried out in close consultation with Rolls-Royce and Airbus. Together with the engine and aircraft manufacturers and the [Australian] Civil Aviation Safety Authority [CASA], Qantas is now satisfied that it can begin reintroducing A380s to its international network progressively."

The carrier says that it has undertaken "an intensive inspection programme on the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines in conjunction with Rolls-Royce, Airbus and our regulators.We have applied the requirements of the [European Aviation Safety Agency] airworthiness directive and are confident that we can begin reintroducing A380s to our international network progressively, including our two new A380s arriving this month, which will also operate under the requirements of the AD."

The arrival of the two new aircraft will bring the Qantas A380 fleet to eight.

Initially, says the airline: "Qantas will operate a single A380 on routes between Australia and the United Kingdom. As more A380s return to service, Qantas will assess when and how best to deploy them."

Qantas has recovered back to Sydney from Los Angeles two A380s that had been stuck there by the grounding decision. Of this pair, one has had two Trent 900s replaced, one of them a new engine and the other taken from elsewhere in the fleet. That aircraft is to fly the first resumed QF31 Sydney-Singapore-London schedule. The second of the two is not yet ready for return to service, says Qantas.

Qantas's approach to the uncontained failure, in which the airframe and some hydraulic and electrical systems suffered considerable damage, was different from that of the two other R-R-powered A380 operators Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines.

Whereas the latter two removed from service engines found to indicate a risk of similar oil leak problems, but continued to operate unaffected A380s in their fleet, Qantas had remained resolute in keeping its fleet grounded.

Qantas explains: "In line with our conservative approach to operational safety, Qantas is voluntarily suspending A380 services on routes that regularly require use of maximum certified engine thrust and will do so until further operational experience is gained or possible additional changes are made to engines. This is an operational decision by Qantas, and pilots still have access to maximum certified thrust if they require it during flight. It is not a manufacturer's directive."

CASA's director of aviation safety John McCormick says the A380 return to service had been closely analysed by CASA's technical staff, commenting: "Qantas provided CASA with extensive documentation to support its plan, as well as a number of briefings by key personnel."

Qantas explains that the EASA airworthiness directive "will apply to all Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines across all operators until Rolls-Royce has developed a solution to the oil issue that meets the certification requirements of airworthiness regulators. Any engine modified in accordance with regulator requirements would then no longer be subject to the AD."

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