Qantas, the Australian airline with a fatality-free flying record, suffered another flight mishap Monday. The latest problem was with an Argentina-bound Boeing (BA) 747 that experienced smoke in its cockpit an hour after takeoff.
It's the latest in a string of problems with Qantas, the worst of which was an engine explosion in early November.
Monday's incident did not cause any injuries. The Age reports that Qantas Flight QF17, a Boeing 747 with 199 passengers and 21 crew on board, took off from Sydney headed to Buenos Aires at 11:11 a.m. on November 15. A little over an hour later, "cockpit smoke forced the pilots to turn back." The cause of the cabin smoke has yet to be identified.
As Time reports, a few days ago a Qantas Boeing 767 turned back after pilots detected abnormal vibrations in one of its two General Electric (GE) engines. A week earlier, a Qantas Boeing 747 landed in Singapore after an engine caught fire shortly after takeoff.
Previous incidents include an engine explosion in a Qantas 747 outside San Francisco in August 2010, and the November 4 engine explosion on Qantas's QF32 near Singapore. Both of these explosions involved the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine -- the explosion of which on Nov. 4 led Qantas to ground its fleet of six A380s.
Rolls Royce issued a statement Friday saying the failure was specific to the Trent 900. The problem "was confined to a specific component in the turbine area of the engine," which, "caused an oil fire, which [then] led to the release of the intermediate pressure turbine disc," according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The process of fixing these engines is fairly elaborate because they need to be worked on in Rolls-Royce's engine facilities in Hong Kong and Britain, reports The Age. The engines must be flown from the aircraft (two in Sydney and three in Los Angeles) to these Rolls-Royce facilities and from there back to Sydney and Los Angeles for re-installation.
Meanwhile, as the problems with the Rolls-Royce engines put all aircraft and airlines that use them on alert, there is a growing concern that there will not be enough spare parts to keep manufacturing the A380s for which orders have been placed. About 20 engines in the Singapore Airline fleet, up to 14 in the Qantas fleet, and two in Lufthansa's fleet, are involved in a similar engine fixing process, according to The Age.
Why is Qantas suffering so many problems all at once? It's hard to know but it can't be helping Qantas do business. I'd guess that many people scheduled to fly on Qantas will try another airline. I am sure there is nothing Qantas would like more than to spend the next several years without any safety incidents and to be praised in the press for hosting a John-Travolta-piloted flight for a visit to Australia with Oprah Winfrey and her audience.