The mid-air blowout near Singapore of a Qantas Airways jumbo jet was likely caused by material failure or faulty design in one of the Airbus 380's Rolls-Royce engines, the Australian airline said Friday.


Qantas CEO Alan Joyce tells a news conference at company HQ in Australia that safety checks on the airline's six Airbus A380 jets will take 24 to 48 hours to complete. ((Daniel Munoz/Reuters))

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce told a news conference in Sydney that it was too early to say exactly what caused the engine failure, which prompted an emergency landing Thursday shortly after takeoff from Singapore, but that an investigation was underway.

The company grounded all six of its Airbus A380s.

"This is an engine issue and the engines have been maintained by Rolls-Royce since they were installed on the aircraft," Joyce said. "We believe this is probably most likely a material failure or some type of design issue. We don't believe this is related to maintenance in any way."

It was the most serious mid-air incident involving the double-decker Airbus A380 since it debuted in October 2007 with Singapore Airlines flying it to Sydney — the same route that Qantas flight QF32 was taking when it was stricken.

Relief flight

Some passengers were put on a relief flight bound for Australia on Friday morning. Others remained in Singapore. 

The stricken A380, which shot flames and shed large metal chunks over an Indonesian island after the engine blowout, was carrying 440 passengers and 26 crew. No one was injured.

Qantas had earlier said the plane was carrying 433 passengers but corrected the number on Friday without an explanation.

After the plane touched down in Singapore, the engine closest to the fuselage on the left wing had visible burn marks and was missing a plate section that would have been painted with the airline's red kangaroo logo. The upper part of the left wing also appeared damaged, indicating that one or more pieces from the engine had gouged the wing.