Airbus is seeking compensation from Rolls-Royce for the additional costs it is incurring because of the serious issues that have emerged with the Trent 900 engine used by Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa on their A380 fleets.

It is also under siege over its failure to tell the airlines and Airbus over changes it made to the engine.

The Airbus compensation claim, and some observations made by Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce in Sydney yesterday make for ‘untidy’ reading, but it is reasonable to say that ‘total care no information’ arrangements made for the overall management of engines and their major overhaul and maintenance by ANY engine manufacturer are in the firing line from now on.

In short, Joyce said Rolls-Royce made two sets of changes to the Trent 900s without telling the airlines or Airbus. He made those comments, at a press conference about improved meals for domestic Qantas passengers of all places, around 21 hours before the Airbus compensation claim became public knowledge.

In an Associated Press story Joyce is reported as follows:

“Rolls-Royce have gone and modified certain parts of this engine,” he said. “If this was significant and was known to be significant, we would have liked to have known about that … We and Airbus weren’t aware of it.

“But it depends on what the purpose of modifications were for,” Joyce added. “It doesn’t look like it’s a significant modification, but it is a modification that has an impact on how the engines are performing. And it is a modification that indicates whether you are going to have a problem or not with the engine.”

Curiously, on November 12, Airbus COO John Leahy, was unanimously reported by those attending a press conference in Sydney as saying essentially the same thing, that Rolls-Royce had fixed the issues in new builds of the engine that were appearing on the production line before the disintegration of engine No 2 on QF32 over Batam Island on November 4, an incident that caused immense damage to the very first A380 to enter Qantas service, and imperilled the lives of the 466 person onboard.

Within hours Airbus media relations was insisting that everyone was wrong, and the Leahy didn’t say what everyone in the room heard him say, which was what Joyce also said yesterday.

(I was on my way back to Canberra from a speaking engagement in Perth, and unable to attend the conference.)

We can now conclude that the gloves are off at Airbus, just as they have been at Qantas, ever since its operations centre was confronted with the most serious incident involving a Qantas jet since the QF 1 crash of a 747-400 at Bangkok’s Don Muang airport on September 23, 1999.

Rolls-Royce had introduced two sets of changes to its Trent 900 builds without telling the users the what fors or why fors. Airbus was under no doubt that these changes removed the problem that had destroyed the Qantas engine.

Only Rolls-Royce can tell us if this was serendipity on its part, some minor, regular, perfectly normal ‘tweak’ that just so happened to solve a problem that it didn’t know about, or something with a more clearly defined purpose, but which was nevertheless of insufficient importance to bring to the attention of Qantas and others.

Whatever the explanation, it is going to have to be revealed, whether by legal discovery, or voluntary disclosure.

One of the clearer reports on the situation appeared on the San Francisco Examiner website earlier this morning Australian time. It pulls in the situation at Lufthansa, and drives another nail through various earlier attempts to put this story back into a box in which it no longer fits.

Nancy-Bird Walton not for scrapping

There has been a rumour in circulation that the damage to the Qantas A380, the first one in its fleet, named Nancy-Bird Walton is so severe it is likely to be scrapped. This has been categorically denied by Qantas. The jet will be repaired at Singapore, and return to the skies.

The same rumour says the pilots were confronted by messages and handling issues they had never seen in an A380 before. Well, with pieces of the engine sticking through the wing, half the hydraulics gone, leaking fuel, and an engine that couldn’t be shut down, who would have thought….!

There is no doubting the serious of the control situation, or the investigation into them, and the issue of maintaining stable or balanced flight without the usual ability to transfer fuel between tanks, but going tabloid over them isn’t going to change or improve the outcomes of a very patient and searching inquiry.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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