Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Choice of Airbus A380 engines comes home to roost

This photograph is reproduced with the permission of
Rolls-Royce plc, copyright © Rolls-Royce plc 2010
Many, many factors come in to play when an airline decides what engines will go on the brand new airplanes it purchases. But right about now, I'm guessing that executives at Qantas, Lufthansa and Singapore are casting a wistful eye at Emirates  and Air France, both of which opted not to put Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines on the Airbus A380 airplanes they operate, selecting the Engine Alliance GP7200 instead.

But the Rolls Royce engine customers are probably too busy thinking about their own decisions. Certainly much of their time these days is consumed trying to keep up with the investigation into why the left inboard engine on a Qantas A380 deconstructed in flight shortly after takeoff from Singapore last week. (I've blogged about some of the airplane-related issues that are coming to light, here.)



But they're also busy with on-again, off-again concerns about oil leaks and other peculiarities on these engines. After taking a second look at its Trent 900s, Lufthansa went back and had a third look and decided that one engine on this airplane, should be replaced "as a preventative measure" on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the airline said. Singapore Airlines, inspected, cleared and released as "okay" some of the eleven A380s in its fleet and then today  recalled three airplanes with plans to swap out the engines.

By swap out, I am not suggesting that they're rollin' off the Rolls engines for the engine manufactured by Engine Alliance. Apparently, its not that easy.

Photo by S. Ramadier courtesy of Airbus
"Our design is unique to the GP7200 and thus has no correlation with the RR engine," communications manager Katy Padgett told me in an email. "Therefore, we do not offer 'backup' engines to A380 customers with Rolls Royce engines."  

In my experience, aviation companies avoid beating up on the competition in safety crises like the one in which Rolls Royce finds itself. There's a well-ingrained sense of it's-them-this-time, it-could-be-me-next-time that keeps the behavior civil, at least publicly.  

Still, its notable that while most of the A380s flying around these days are sporting the Trent 900s, Katy Padgett's numbers suggest that won't be the case much longer. The majority of the A380s on order call for her company's product. In addition to Emirates and Air France, Etihad, Korean Air, Air Austral and planes purchased by the leasing company International Lease Finance orders for the General Electric/Pratt & Whitney engine total more than 500. 

Let's hope that rather than just watching the Rolls Royce investigation from the sidelines, the engineers at Engine Alliance are paying attention and checking every calculation and widget on their own behemoth products.



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