World

Qantas jet had series of system failures

Pilots struggled against a rapidly cascading series of system failures after a Qantas jet's engine blew out, severing electrical and hydraulic lines and puncturing fuel tanks.

Pilots struggled against a rapidly cascading series of system failures after a Qantas jet's engine blew out, severing electrical and hydraulic lines and puncturing fuel tanks.

The description of the pilots' ordeal on the Nov. 4 flight came as the airline's chief executive said Thursday the engine failure might lead to the replacement of as many as half of the 80 Rolls-Royce engines that power some of the world's largest jets, the Airbus 380.

A damaged part of the left wing of a Qantas Airbus 380 is seen through a window of the jet that made an emergency landing in Singapore's Changi International Airport. ((Matthew Hewitt/Associated Press))

After the Qantas engine disintegrated, blasting metal shards into the left wing, the pilots were inundated with 54 computer messages alerting them of systems that had failed or were close to giving out, said Richard Woodward, vice-president of the Australian and International Pilots Association. Woodward has talked with all five pilots who were in the cockpit.

"I don't think any crew in the world would have been trained to deal with the amount of different issues this crew faced," Woodward said.

"The amount of failures is unprecedented," he said. "There is probably a one-in-100-million chance to have all that go wrong."

Among the pilots' troubles, the wing's two fuel tanks were punctured. Fuel leaked out, causing a growing imbalance between the left and right sides of the plane.

At the same time, the plane was becoming tail heavy. The electrical power problems prevented pilots from pumping fuel from tanks in the tail to tanks farther forward, Woodward said.

Gradually, the plane's centre of gravity began to change, Woodward said.

That might have posed the greatest risk, safety experts say. If a plane gets too far out of balance, it will lose lift, stall and crash.

The pilots managed to return the crippled plane to Singapore and land safely with 450 passengers aboard.

Qantas has since grounded its fleet of six A380s, each powered by four of the giant Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce told reporters that Qantas might have to replace 14 engines, each worth about $10 million.

Rolls-Royce has indicated that the number of engines that need to be replaced is "40 engines worldwide," he said.

Rolls-Royce has remained virtually silent since Nov. 4 as its stock price has dropped.