Oil pipe defect caused Qantas engine blowout

SYDNEY — The dramatic disintegration of a Qantas superjumbo jet engine during a flight in 2010 was triggered by a poorly built oil pipe that failed to conform to design specifications, Australian investigators said Thursday in their final report into the emergency.

The Rolls-Royce engine exploded on the Qantas A380 shortly after takeoff from Singapore, forcing an emergency landing and becoming the most significant safety issue an A380 had faced since starting passenger flights in 2007. Rolls-Royce faced intense scrutiny of its engines, and A380s around the world were temporarily grounded.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s report confirmed the agency’s earlier findings that an oil leak from a pipe inside one of the plane’s massive Trent 900 engines sparked a fire. The fire caused a disintegration of one of the engine’s giant turbine discs, sending pieces of it blasting through the plane’s wing.

The agency, which led an international investigation into the Qantas engine breakup, concluded that the walls of several pipes were too thin and didn’t conform to design specifications. The error prompted a disastrous domino effect, with the weak wall of the pipe breaking down, then cracking and finally releasing oil into the superheated engine, sparking the fire.

The transport agency said Rolls-Royce has identified all the affected pipes, overhauled its quality management system and implemented a safety feature that should shut an engine down before it can blow apart if the same scenario ever happened again.

Rolls-Royce said it supported the agency’s findings and had improved its manufacturing and design processes.

“This was a serious and rare event which we very much regret,” Colin Smith, director of engineering and technology for Rolls-Royce said in a statement. “At Rolls-Royce we continually strive to meet the high standards of safety, quality and reliability that our customers and their passengers are entitled to expect. On this occasion we clearly fell short.”

The Nov. 4, 2010, engine blowout sent debris raining down onto Indonesia’s Batam Island. The plane landed safely and no one was hurt, but the emergency forced the temporary grounding of 20 A380s with Trent 900 engines, operated by Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Germany’s Lufthansa. Qantas later reached a 95 million Australian dollar ($86 million) settlement with Rolls-Royce.

“This was an unprecedented event and, as the report confirms, all possible steps have been taken to ensure that it can never happen again,” Qantas said in a statement.

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