SYDNEY (Reuters)- Qantas Airways hopes to resume Airbus A380 flights between Australia and Los Angeles from mid-January as Rolls-Royce finalizes its investigation into the cause of a mid-flight engine explosion on one of the aircraft last year.
Qantas said on Wednesday it hoped to resume normal A380 operations from January 17 but it would still need the go-ahead from Australia’s aviation regulator before flying the superjumbo aircraft on the lucrative route.
“We remain hopeful we will have the aircraft operating by the 17th of January,” a Qantas spokeswoman told Reuters.
However, that timeframe still depended on how long the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) took to approve the return to normal operations, according to one aviation source. The aviation source said Qantas has not yet had talks with CASA.
Qantas has been in talks with Rolls-Royce since one of the A380 engines disintegrated mid-flight in November, forcing the airline to initially ground its fleet of the aircraft. It has since resumed A380 flights to London but was not flying the aircraft on the longer Los Angeles route.
Qantas said on Wednesday it expected to have eight A380 aircraft in the air by early February, up from five currently. The airline is scheduled to take delivery of a new A380 aircraft in mid-January and another new aircraft by early February. A third A380 currently grounded in Sydney was also due to be operating by mid-January.
Aviation sources said Rolls-Royce had identified the cause of the explosion, which was related to problems with the boring inside a pipe that feeds oil to the engine’s turbine bearing area. Once identified it would be easy for the engine-maker to identify exactly which engines would be at risk from the fault, one source said.
Analysts estimate damages to Qantas could reach $60 million, although forecasts vary. The LA route is one of Qantas’ most profitable but its latest operating statistics for the month of November showed there had not been a major impact on passenger numbers from the incident.
Qantas shares have lost nearly 14 percent since the engine explosion.
The stock initially rose on Wednesday following a local newspaper report the A380 would return to the Los Angeles route but later eased 0.8 percent to A$2.46, in line with a soft broad market.
Editing by Ed Davies and Dhara Ranasinghe