Thursday, March 5, 2009

Three Qantas A380 superjumbos grounded in recent days

Even before these planes entered service, I said on various occasions that I could feel a re-run of the De Havilland "Comet" affair coming up. The Comet was the first of its class too. It was the first passenger jet airliner and it had an attractive design feature: Big rectangular picture windows for passengers to see out of. But after a while the Comets started exploding in flight. It was eventually found that those big picture windows were the problem. They weakened the airframe so much that it cracked and the plane disintegrated. To this day all airliners now have small oval windows. And the military version of the Comet -- with NO windows -- is still flying 50 years later: The Nimrod. It was a great plane except for that one fault. What will it be with the A380? Could be excessive system complexity. Everything on the plane is computerized and we all know how computer programs "hang up" at times. Frozen control surfaces at the wrong moment could be catastrophic. Problems are certainly coming thick and fast. I wouldn't go on one for love or money

QANTAS has been hit by a string of problems which have grounded all three of their flagship A380s in the past few days. One of the planes was back in service this morning, but the other two were declared unserviceable with a fuel tank indication system problem, reports The Herald Sun. "Qantas is an early customer of the A380 and naturally, as with any new aircraft type and like other operators of the A380, we expect the occasional issue to arise," the airline said in a statement. "We are working very closely with Airbus to resolve these but we remain committed to the A380 as the cornerstone of our new generation product offering."

The airline's first superjumbo, the Nancy-Bird Walton, was initially delayed for 19 hours in Sydney on Saturday because of a fuel leak. After repair work the much-heralded plane was cleared to fly the "kangaroo route" to Singapore then London. In London, it was again found to be leaking fuel and experienced a nose wheel ground steering issue. The plane was declared "unserviceable" and had to be grounded.

The episode comes after Qantas grounded the same plane due to a "minor technical fault" at Los Angeles airport five weeks ago. In the latest incident, the Nancy-Bird Walton was scheduled to fly from London to Melbourne as a one-off because of the initial delay in Sydney.

Passengers travelling to Melbourne on flight QF10 were delayed for more than 16 hours as a result of the dramas. One passenger stranded in London told News Ltd: "Lots of people were really excited to be going on the new plane. "Now basically they've cancelled the flight because there's a fuel leak. "It's a worry because it's brand new and a fuel problem is pretty serious." They eventually left London on a Boeing 747 at 2.24pm Monday, instead of the original departure time of 10pm Sunday.

A Qantas spokeswoman yesterday said repairs had been completed and the Nancy-Bird Walton departed London for Melbourne on flight QF10 at 11.25pm Monday local time (10.25am Tuesday Melbourne). The other two A380s were grounded in Sydney and engineers were "currently working to resolve this and we hope to have both aircraft returned to service very soon", the airline said. Of the two "unserviceable" A380s in Sydney, one was scheduled to be ready to operate QF31 Sydney-Singapore-London at 5.40pm today. The other A380 was scheduled to be back in operation tomorrow.


Risky decision

A FUEL gauge fault with the Qantas A380 fleet was identified mid-flight more than two weeks ago but engineers ordered the aircraft to continue flying the scheduled London to Australia routes.

The fuel gauge fault that led to the grounding of all three Qantas A380s earlier this week was first discovered on February 14, when QF 31 was in Singapore, en route to London from Sydney, reports The Advertiser. The aircraft continued flying the long-haul route for another two weeks before the airline's executives decided the fault was serious enough to ground the fleet.

The aircraft's manufacturer has since issued an alert to other operators of the A380 recommending action to fix the apparent glitch with the fuel gauges. It is not yet clear whether the flaw is a design fault.

On Monday, about 300 passengers were forced to wait more than 16 hours for their flight from London to Melbourne as another A-380 fault was rectified.