Qantas A380: Rolls-Royce Eats Crow, May Replace Dozens of Engines

Last Updated Nov 16, 2010 6:25 PM EST

Airbus A380s around the world continue to sit on the ground as the hunt for what caused an engine to fail earlier this month winds up. It now appears that dozens of engines may have to be replaced completely and that could take a long time. What's even more amazing about this is that Rolls-Royce, the manufacturer of the Trent 900 engine in question, seems to believe the problem is a known issue that had already been fixed on newer engines. Rolls-Royce is looking terrible right now.

According to Airbus, the oil leak that caused the uncontained failure is related to a bearing box that's standard on newer engines. See, Rolls-Royce apparently knew about the problem but didn't think it was a big enough issue to bother fixing the old ones right away. Because of this, it's possible that 20 engines on Singapore Air A380s and 14 on Qantas A380s will need to be replaced. Lufthansa, the only other airline operating the A380 with Rolls-Royce engines, is unaffected.

If the engines do in fact need to be replaced, that's going to create a nightmare for Rolls-Royce, Airbus, and the airlines. This is not a high volume production aircraft, and the Trent 900 engines are only on the A380. So there aren't a large number of engines just lying around. It's being reported that Airbus will start taking engines off of planes in production and that could impact future deliveries. As you can imagine, this isn't good news for the A380 program, which is already fairly sparse on orders, with 234 in hand at last check.

But it's an even bigger program for Rolls-Royce. With deliveries potentially taking a big delay, might current operators turn to the other engine offered on the A380 to speed things up? Or will operators be so concerned about the Rolls-Royce engine product that they walk away regardless of timing issues? It's a very real concern.

At the very least, even if Rolls doesn't lose orders, it will have to pay millions of dollars for new engines. It's also inevitable that Qantas will look to Rolls for compensation for the weeks that these planes sat idle. The tab is going to be sky high.

It's certainly going to burn some bridges in the relationship between Rolls and Airbus. As the airplanes continue to sit on the ground waiting for new engines, the news seems likely to only get worse.

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Photo via Wikimedia Commons user David Monniaux/CC-BY-SA-3.0