As of mid-February, Australia’s Qantas Airways was still mulling the compensation it would seek after November’s grounding of its A380 fleet, triggered by the uncontained failure of a Rolls-Royce (R-R) Trent 900 engine.
In December, Qantas had warned that it would consider taking legal steps against the UK-based engine manufacturer if a compensation offer was unsatisfactory. Damages covering loss of revenue, engineering costs, and impact on its schedules and “brand” image were being considered.
While the operator would not detail the settlement sought and R-R says details of such settlements are commercially sensitive, the engine-maker has made provision in its 2010 accounts for 56 million pounds sterling (US$90 million). The sum covers related Trent 900 costs, including engine repairs, redesign, un-contracted settlements to affected customers, and compensation for delayed engine deliveries.
The sum was revealed in the company’s 2010 annual results, announced in early February – and it was understood Qantas could provide guidance figures in its own half-year financial statement, scheduled for release as Asian Aviation went to press. Rolls-Royce Chief Executive Sir John Rose says he believes any additional associated costs will have only a modest impact on this year’s business.
The engine failure generated “considerable scrutiny” of the aircraft and the Trent 900, R-R says.
“A rapid and effective response from all stakeholders, including Qantas, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and [regulators], enabled quick understanding of the cause, issues, and remedies, and the return to normal service within a matter of weeks,” the company says. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has issued an airworthiness directive requiring periodic inspections to detect abnormal oil leakage, which, if found, would require the withdrawal of an engine from service.
EASA also has mandated enhancement of Trent 900 electronic engine-control software to introduce intermediate-pressure turbine overspeed protection. R-R tests have confirmed that oil-feed tubes with a defined minimum thin-wall section offer a higher “life” and reduced risk of fracture.
Qantas resumed transpacific A380 services from Melbourne to Los Angeles in mid-January, after having earlier returned the aircraft to European routes flown via Singapore. The latter can be flown without recourse to the full 72,000lb thrust the carrier needs for flights to North America. Apart from the Qantas suspension, A380s flown by other Trent 900 operators Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines underwent detailed inspections and/or engine change that, in turn, will have generated extra costs.
Seeking to provide context for the failure, the first involving a large civil R-R engine since 1994, the manufacturer says that such an “uncontained disc release” occurs on large civil airliners worldwide with “a frequency of about once a year”. Rose says R-R is “working hard to minimise disruptions” to new A380 deliveries, but has not provided details on short-term production adjustments that might be required.
He emphasises that no customers have dropped Trent 900 orders, while some have re-confirmed business since November.
Long-established customer British Airways has placed the first Trent 900 order since the Qantas incident. The US$5 billion deal covers engines for 12 A380s scheduled for delivery from 2013, Trent 1000 engines for 24 Boeing 787s, and options to buy a further 25 engines.
R-R’s civil aerospace business, which represents just over 40 percent of the company’s group turnover, enjoyed a 10 percent increase to about US$7.9 billion. Much of this arose from provision of support and “power by the hour” maintenance (which accounts for more than half of total revenue) rather than new orders.
The manufacturer claims that last year saw “good progress” with several key development programmes, including the Trent 1000, the Airbus A400M’s TP400 turboprop powerplant, and the BR725 for the Gulfstream G650. The Trent XWB engine for the Airbus A350 XWB was run for the first time last June. The Trent 1000 has logged over 2,000 hours of flight test on the Boeing 787, while three Trent XWBs are involved in the test programme with four more engines scheduled to enter testing during this year.
The Trent 700 is said to have won more than 90 percent of 2010 orders to power the Airbus A330, and more than 70 percent of those placed in the past five years. The model’s order book stands at record levels, even after delivery of 139 units last year.
In addition, R-R took combined orders for more than 150 Trent 1000 and XWB variants last year, bringing those programmes to a cumulative 1,700-plus units, a volume that the UK manufacturer says is similar to the current operating civil Trent fleet, which entered service in 1994.
Nevertheless, the company adds that it continues to face “challenging” trading conditions.
“The increasing costs of bringing major new programmes to market, higher research and development charges, and the net effect of a number of one-off items all contributed to a decline in profitability, largely as had been expected,” says R-R. “This decline was partially offset by foreign-exchange benefits and improving productivity.”