54 failures on QF A380

The Associated Press, via this story in The Seattle Times, details the in-flight emergency of the Qantas A380 after the No. 2 engine suffered an uncontained failure.

The account is very dramatic, particularly when the as-yet untold story of the Boeing 787 ZA002 is considered.

Qantas recorded 54 failures, including the near-deployment of the Ram Air Turbine (RAT) that does so only when there is a major system failure. The RAT, as we know, deployed on the 787.

There was also a cascading series of failures on the 787 in the moments before it landed at Laredo (TX) on November 9. Qantas suffered a cascading series of failures, and while the two incidents have entirely different circumstances, the dramatic story of Qantas gives an indication of what can quickly go wrong on an airplane.

Boeing has yet to detail the 90 seconds in which ZA002 went through a fire and systems failures.

What we do know is that power control panel P100 failed. Whether it failed and caught fire or caught fire and then failed has not been revealed. The power failure triggered a series of other failures, including instruments in front of the pilot-in-command, and deployment of the RAT. The co-pilot had his instruments at all times, according to Boeing.

But the back-up systems did not work as intended, and this is a key concern for Boeing and Hamilton Sundstrand, the contractor for the P100 panel.

We understand that the investigation is narrowing elements of what happened, although the “why” remains elusive at this time.

We are certain that some level of redesigns will be required. How long this will affect the program with new delays remains a matter of conjecture.

16 Comments on “54 failures on QF A380

  1. It’s nice that they mention that having all of the electical lines routed together in the leading edge is too much of a consolidation of said lines, leading to a possible loss of power if said lines are cut. But if my memory serves me correct, electrical wiring is not allowed in fuel tanks in aircraft (one outcome of the TWA-800 incident).
    Not much more room available after that.

  2. One should keep in mind that a significant number of those 54 messages
    provide informational content that used to be available to formal
    investigators on the ground and much later but not to the flight crew
    and in a timely manner at that.

    The flight savety guy at FlightGlobal wrote some time ago that modern
    planes could provide for a more “intellectual” approach to flying
    having the plane essentially fly itself and watch of anomalies, use
    the planes systems for introspection. ( imho the place where “seatpants
    fliers” and “flying professors” separate.)

  3. To put the incident in context, a large metal disk rotating at top speed fractured into three heavy pieces which were then hurled into the body of the plane. In a very real sense the A380 came under missile attack. If terrorists had launched the missiles, I don’t think you would use the headline “54 failures”.

    It was wonderful that QF32 was able to land without loss of life.

  4. Will this A380 incident cause the cancellation or a further delay of the A320NEO? If AB was concerned with lack of resources for the NEO project before the QF incident, then I would think now it will be even worse. They may need divert a few engineers to look at any changes that may be required to the A380 systems.

    • Interesting question.
      This will probably depend on how “unexpectedly connected” the resultant failures
      from the impacts are.
      But my impression is that there is no scratching of heads about
      “how could that fail too” like over on that other continent 😉

      My guess is it won’t have a major impact on personel resources at Airbus.

      Doing Trent 900 juggling over the FAL and various continents _will_ have an
      impact though.

  5. I know it sounds rude, as this A380 RR Trent 972 explosion could easily have led to a major disaster, but for the engineers of Rolls Royce as well as Airbus this incident is a lucky strike. The aircraft as a whole survived the incident and they now can learn very much about how redundancy of the A380 systems worked and where they failed. By studying carefully how the damage evolved, they will be able to avoid dangerous design flaws in future aircrafts, for example in the A350.

  6. FF, you got ahead of me with your point but I just want to reinforce it again. Let’s step back and think about this incident again. We (generally speaking) had a major engine failure where three large fragments of the turbine disk (+other smaller shrapnel) punctured the wing severing various electrical cables and hydraulic pipes & so on, not to mention the front spar damage. The aircraft was still under control of the pilots, flew for 1h40m after the explosion, landed overweight, at high speed, with one engine at full power and half the spoilers available. The passengers disembarked normally to see their relatives again and tell the tail (not to mention upload their video on Youtube) but the headline is that the pilots had 54 failure messages in 50 minutes? Well, I am sorry but at least they had the 50 minutes! I think we are in danger of taking things here for granted. The plane has performed extremely well and did the job exactly as was supposed to do, get the passengers back on the ground safely after a major failure.
    Just to pick up some of the points in various blogs:
    – The Certification requirement is to analyse the impact of only one disc shrapnel, the plane was hit by 3.
    – CoG warning due to TT fuel. Airbus analyses a number of fuel failure conditions, including fuel trapped in Trim Tank. I really doubt that the aircraft was in danger of breaching aft CG limit.
    – Wing fuel imbalance. Yes, there probably was imbalance and the pilots had a warning of the situation but was it a flight control issue? It seemed to fly for 1h40m, so obviously not up to the point that it landed.
    I have no doubt that Airbus and the Certification Authorities will learn some valuable lessons (hopefully leading to more robust designs) but for now let’s be thankful that nobody got hurt and praise the pilots for the their admirable efforts and the engineers who designed and built that thing…

    • … with one engine at full power …

      Looks like #1 was under pilot control. Only fuel cut off was affected.

      Consider the fact that the autopilot was eventually switched off in the final landing run ( 700′).
      Compare to earlier times were the flight crew was busy just “fighting the beast”
      in such situations and would have been short on time to read a bunch of warning messages ( had they even had them ).

  7. Airbus sent out a memo defending the A380 per flightblogger:


    debunks a few of the myths that have been floating around (such as that the aircraft nearly had an overrun cause breaks didnt work; instead the crew deliberately modulated the breaks to stop near the emregency services)

    also very interesting:
    the reason engine 1 could not be shut down has been determined: 2 segregated wiring routes were cut by 2 out of the 3 individual disk debris.

    still cant see anything that would lead me to believe that there were some serious deficiencies with the airframe, though I do think that the Data gathered might lead to some future improvements

  8. There are many more unanswered questions about QF-32 than about ZA002. First, it is my understanding the QF crew landed about one hours after the uncontained engine failure, which itself happened about 10 minutes after take-off. I don’t remember reading they flew for 1 hour and 40 minutes.

    Obviously the flying disc and engine debris took out critical wiring and other components. But, were these wiring harnesses part of the major rewire work and routing Airbus has had since the A-380 entered production? The fuel leaks could have been much more serious if the cut wiring had been producing sparks inside the wing dry and wet bays (or the penetrated foreward wing spar). The ability to not fully control the #1 engine is a serious event. QF had 5 pilots aboard, including its 3 most senior A-380 Capts., one first officer, and one second officer.

    The fuel situatition was the most serious situation developing, after the initial engine explosion. Time was not on their side. Had the aircraft been further away from a suitable airport, this aircraft, crew, and 440 passengers would have been lost. Why because of the growing CG inbalance both laterally and longitudently. It seems amazimg to me the aft trim tank cannot “gravity drain” into the main wing tanks, it needs to be pumped. But, then again, the A-380 has had cronic fuel systems problems since it entered service, including QF grounding 3 A-380s in March 2009 (all it had at that time).

    But, an out of control CG can make the aircraft uncontrolable and stall. As fuel as leaking from both left wing tanks, and being burned (at a slower rate the the leaking fuel) from the right wing, the inabality to drain the trapped fuel from the trim tank would easily exceed the aft CG flight limit, thus stalling the aircraft. Fuel dumping from the right wing was apparently stopped when ther crew realized they had trapped fuel in the trim tank.

    Apparently there is no ability to dump the fuel from the trim tank, except through the wings.

    QF may still deside to write off this A-380 because of the damage to the wing spar, as it may not be reapiarable.

    • I’ll answer some of that or better said relay the answers 😉

      Flight Time:
      Landing in SIN took place about 1 hour 40 minutes after the engine 2 failure with flaps in configuration 3.

      Control Loss of Engine #1:
      After the aircraft came to a stop, the reason engine 1 could not be shut down has been determined: 2 segregated wiring routes were cut by 2 out of the 3 individual disk debris.

      Distance to suitable airport:
      the A380 stayed 1h40min in air after the loss of engine #2, so yeah. no reports indicated it was close to dropping from the air at this point aswell

    • Well TopBoom
      in relation to Boeing there is just one BIG question open:
      what for chrissake happened really?

      With QF32 we quite a bit more progressed and deep into detail.
      Very interesting, but there don’t seem to be big blind spots.

      Wiring issues lay in interfaces to german sections.
      Routing problems existed in the cabin area.

      Afair the grounding was linked to replicating gunk in the tanks.

      The CG issue is not a “fast” developing issue.

      There doesn’t seem to have been need for unduly haste in the
      course of events. The crew had the time and mindset to have a
      well planned landing in for the situation optimal conditions.


      Man, you are grabbing at straws and do appear distraught as
      slight changes in your writing would imho indicate.

      And your inattentiveness to this timing detail astonishes.
      You are always so carefull to find any tiny detail to fault others 😉

    • Ohh man, it was an embarrassing read. It’s posts like this that undermine your credibility to be anywhere near objective contributor.

      ” I don’t remember reading they flew for 1 hour and 40 minutes.”
      Don S provided a very good link above, which should answer your question.

      “The fuel leaks could have been much more serious if the cut wiring had been producing sparks”
      The only thing I agree with you.

      “Had the aircraft been further away from a suitable airport, this aircraft, crew, and 440 passengers would have been lost”
      Ohh you know that for sure, do you?

      ” an out of control CG can make the aircraft uncontrolable and stall”
      You know your physics, I’ll give you that but no such situation occurred.

      ” thus stalling the aircraft”
      Has that happened? No. That’s the answer to your theory. As I said previously, Airbus runs loads analysis of the fuel failure conditions including fuel trapped in trim tank. The fact that the aircraft flew for 1h40m indicates that the aft CG limit was not breached.

      “QF may still deside to write off this A-380”
      Well, you can always hope but I wouldn’t expect anything less from you.

      Had this incident occurred with the 787, you’d be defending its performance to the last letter of your post, which brings me to the second sentence of my contribution.

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