A poorly manufactured oil pipe caused the 2010 in-flight explosion of a Trent 900 engine

Quality control guilty of Rolls-Royce's engine in-flight failure

A poorly manufactured oil pipe caused the 2010 in-flight ignition of an aircraft engine manufactured by Rolls-Royce, Australian Transport Safety Bureau announced today.

Extensive investigation revealed the oil feed pipe used in the Trent 900 engine of an Airbus A380 was made of a thin wall section and did not comply with the design specifications. The poorly manufactured pipe, prone to material fatigue, cracked and allowed release of oil that resulted in internal oil ignition.

Due to the fire, one of the engine’s turbine discs separated from the drive shaft. The disc then over-accelerated and broke apart, bursting through the engine casing and releasing other high energy debris.

The incident took place shortly after the Qantas Airbus A380 took off from Singapore Airport above Batam Island, Indonesia, on 4 November 2010. The crew managed to return to the airport and landed the aircraft safely, despite multiple system failures in the plane’s electrical, hydraulic and other systems.

According the ATSB, similarly faulty oil pipes were found on a number of other engines. Rolls-Royce said the faulty oil pipe was one of a very limited number, which had been incorrectly manufactured as a result of a measurement error during a precision drilling procedure.

In a statement issued today, Rolls-Royce has accepted the investigation outcomes and reassured its costumers that steps were taken to prevent any similar failure in the future. "We support the ATSB's conclusions and, as the report notes, have already applied the lessons learned throughout our engineering, manufacturing and quality assurance procedures to prevent this type of event from happening again."

In the aftermath of the accident, all Trent 900 powered A380s were subject to inspection and those with similarly incorrectly manufactured oil feed pipes were removed from service.

Rolls-Royce also introduced software that would automatically shut down a Trent 900 engine before its turbine disc over-speeds. Rolls-Royce said the company has invested into improving their quality management system and management of non-conforming parts.

The ATSB recommended to other aviation authorities - United States Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Agency - to review and incorporate any lessons learned from this accident into their aircraft certification procedures.

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