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Engine problems hit second Qantas aircraft

SINGAPORE/SYDNEY (Reuters) - Engine trouble forced a Qantas Airways Ltd jet to make an emergency landing in Singapore on Friday, less than 48 hours after another of the Australian carrier’s aircraft had to land prematurely because its engine blew up.

Engineers inspect the outermost port engine of a Qantas Boeing 747, flight QF6, at Singapore's Changi airport November 6, 2010. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

The Sydney-bound Boeing 747-400 aircraft, with 412 people on board, returned to the airport 20 minutes after takeoff due to “an issue with one of its engines,” Qantas Airways Ltd said in a statement.

That came a day after a Qantas Airbus A380 jet was forced to make an emergency landing after one of its four Rolls-Royce Plc engines appeared to break apart in flight, scattering debris over an Indonesian island.

“Around 20 minutes into the flight we heard a loud bang,” Ranjan Sivagnanasundaram, an Australian citizen in his early 50s who was on Friday’s flight, told Reuters. “It was a very big shock to us, especially after what happened yesterday.

The Boeing Co aircraft also had been equipped with Rolls-Royce engines.

Officials at British engine-maker Rolls-Royce did not return calls seeking comment.

The earlier incident saw Qantas ground its fleet of six A380s pending safety checks that will take 24 to 48 hours and led other airlines to check their own A380s.

“We believe this is probably, most likely, a material failure or some sort of design issue,” Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce told a news conference in Sydney. “If we don’t find any adverse findings in those checks, the aircraft will resume operations.”

Separately, a European Union air safety body confirmed it told airlines in August to make checks after finding “wear, beyond engine manual limits,” on the type of Rolls-Royce engines fitted to the Qantas jet and some other A380s.

The incidents could provide Rolls’ rivals General Electric Co and the Pratt & Whitney unit of United Technologies Corp with a chance to grab market share from the No. 2 engine-maker.

“Things move slowly in the engine business, but there is no question that you have a series of events that really put Rolls-Royce’s reputation at risk,” said Richard Aboulafia, vice president at aviation consultancy Teal Group.

GE is the world’s largest maker of jet engines, Pratt comes in third.

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The A380 engine failure on Thursday was the biggest incident to date for the world’s largest passenger plane, which went into service in 2007.

Rolls-Royce and Airbus parent EADS told operators of the Rolls-equipped A380 jets to have them inspected.

The Engine Alliance, a joint venture between GE and Pratt that makes a rival engine for the A380 told users: “The EA is not recommending engine inspections as our design is unique ... and thus has no correlation with the RR engine.”

Singapore Airlines Ltd resumed flying its 11 A380s on Friday, lifting a grounding order imposed after the first incident.

Deutsche Lufthansa AG said it had withdrawn an A380 from a Frankfurt-Johannesburg flight because it had not had enough time to check the engines before departure.

Passengers who had been on the first flight said a second engine on the stricken Qantas aircraft had failed to shut down once the jet was on the tarmac, sparking fears it could ignite spilling fuel.

Passengers said after landing they had been told of the dangers of using any electronic device as fire fighters sprayed the aircraft, which was leaking fuel from a hole in the wing.

“Obviously in the back of your mind you are concerned about a very hot engine next to leaking fuel,” passenger Christopher Lee said. “Obviously, you are in a state of anxiety.”

Qantas CEO Joyce said the second engine could have been harmed by the mishap to the first engine, which caused parts to fly off.

Aviation experts said the first plane being able to land despite the engine mishap illustrated the safety of modern aircraft.

“The fact that it survived the damage is a credit to the design. Twenty years ago that would probably have taken the aircraft out of the sky,” said John Page, senior lecturer in Aerospace Engineering at the University of New South Wales.

Airbus sales chief John Leahy said he had not received complaints from airlines about the A380’s safety.

“We have to find out the reason for the engine failure,” he told Reuters in Paris.

Qantas said its engineers, along with those from Airbus and Rolls-Royce, were working to determine what went wrong.

“Rolls-Royce have identified a number of potential areas,” said Joyce. “This issue does not relate to maintenance.”

Rolls-Royce has maintained the engines since they were installed on the aircraft, he said. The company gets a goodly proportion of its revenues from such service contracts.


European plane-maker Airbus and Rolls-Royce lost over $1.5 billion in combined market value on Thursday

EADS shares were flat on Friday, after Thursday’s 4 percent fall, while Rolls-Royce shares fell a further 3.3 percent to 601 pence after a 5 percent slide the previous day. Boeing was up 0.7 percent at $71.37 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Qantas shares ended down 1 percent at A$2.86 on Friday, underperforming the broader Australian market, which advanced 1.2 percent to a six-month high.

Commonwealth Bank aviation analyst Matt Crowe said there was unlikely to be long-term damage to its reputation, as investors had tended to move on from previous safety incidents, which have never resulted in a fatal crash for Qantas.

Additional reporting by Scott Malone in Boston, Victoria Thieberger in Melbourne and Kevin Lim and Harry Suhartono in Singapore; writing by Scott Malone; editing by Mark Bendeich, Dan Lalor, Gerald E. McCormick and Andre Grenon