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Superjumbo image hurt by engine failure, Emirates fears

Airline's president says Qantas Airbus A380 incident was 'enormously big wake-up call' for the industry, and voices concern about public perception of the problem.

Emirates Airline is concerned public perception of the Airbus A380 superjumbo will be jeopardised by the engine failure on a Qantas A380 flight last week.

The carrier says it wants the aircraft maker, Airbus, and the manufacturer of the engine involved, Rolls-Royce, to take preventative steps to avoid a repeat incident. 

Although the Dubai airline uses a different make of engine on its A380s to the one that suffered problems on the Qantas flight above Indonesia, it is heavily invested in the aircraft's fate. Emirates is buying more of the superjumbos than any other carrier, with 90 on order and plans to acquire more.

The engine failure was an "enormously big wake-up call", Tim Clark, the president of Emirates, told Bloomberg in London on Wednesday. "We really don't want this aircraft tarnished with a reputation for failures in certain areas," he said. "We're concerned and watching very closely." 

The call from Emirates comes as the two largest new aircraft programmes in the world, the introduction of the A380 and the Boeing 787, endure extended and sometimes serious teething problems ahead of their acceptance as fully reliable planes.

On Wednesday, Boeing halted all test flights of its 787 Dreamliner, the day after an electrical fire on board a test plane resulted in an emergency landing.

In addition, there are fears that the three-year delivery delay could be pushed back yet again as the manufacturer tackles a number of problems identified during flight tests. 

Emirates uses engines made by General Electric and Pratt & Whitney's Engine Alliance joint venture on its 14 A380s, while Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and Qantas use the Rolls-Royce Trent 900. Qantas has grounded its six A380s pending further investigation while Singapore Airlines also grounded three of its planes on Wednesday as a precautionary measure after finding unexpected oil leaks in the engines. 

Yesterday, the European Aviation Safety Agency said the Qantas engine failure may have been caused by an oil fire and ordered airlines to carry out new inspections of Rolls-Royce engines on the A380. 

Yan Derocles, an aviation analyst at Oddo Securities in Paris, said passengers were often quick to avoid travelling on planes associated with potential safety problems. "Most of the flying public isn't even aware that there are two types of engines available on the A380," he said. "Normally, when you have incidents or accidents, there's an immediate impact on bookings. But soon after, occupancy rates return to normal."

Emirates, the largest airline in the world by international capacity, is concerned about  what it calls the "contagion effect", Mr Clark said. "If we get lumped together then we will have to take some kind of action," he said. "I hope it won't come to that. One thing we will not allow is a contagion effect." 

A number of glitches have plagued the entry into service for the A380 regarding fuel, electrical and braking systems. Doug McVitie, the chief consultant with Arran Aerospace, said earlier this year that one problem was that the Airbus planes were hand-built at low production rates. "Each aircraft is individual and different, so they have not got up over the learning curve," he said.

Boeing is aiming for its first deliveries of the 787, its new mid-sized, long-haul composite aircraft, in the first quarter of next year to ANA of Japan, from an initial delivery target of May 2008. Before then it will need to tackle concerns, including unexpected flight deck window noise and cabin condensation,  picked up during flight tests, according to the trade publication Flight International. Other issues include passenger doors, standard of workmanship on the tailplane and changes to the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine, the magazine said.

* with Bloomberg

igale@thenational.ae

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