Qantas A380s: Grounded all summer?

By Michael Flux, November 12 2010
Qantas A380s: Grounded all summer?

Reports are emerging that Qantas' fleet of A380s could remain grounded throughout summer, although the beleagured airline dismisses the claims as mere speculation.

The latest schedule from Qantas shows it won't be flying the A380 for at least the next few weeks. This lead The Sydney Morning Herald to estimate the aircraft may be out of the picture during the lucrative Christmas period. While Qantas has denied these reports, it is also unable to predict when the Airbus superjumbos will start flying again.

Qantas is meanwhile reshuffling its fleet to cope with the grounding of the A380. Long-haul routes usually flown by the Airbus A380s are now covered by Boeing 747s, which have in turn been replaced by A330s and 767s.

747 aircraft have a slightly lower capacity than the A380s; A330s and 767s have a far lesser capacity than 747s. For passengers, this means a higher possibility that seats will be unavailable on popular international flights. For Qantas, fewer seats during the peak summer period would be a solid blow to its bottom line.

Meanwhile interviews of crew members on flight QF32, which suffered an "uncontained engine failure" last week, have revealed the plane faced a number of safety risks before it was able to land.

The Herald Sun reports the engine explosion caused massive damaged to the internal structure of the A380. Fire extinguishers could not be deployed, and two fuel tanks began leaking. The explosion also created a large hole in the plane's left wing.

None of the A380's fuel could be dumped, which is recommended for emergency landings. With only one engine available for reverse thrust, QF32 was too heavy and travelling too fast on arrival.

Once the damaged craft was on the ground, spoilers on the wings designed to slow it down would not deploy. The A380 required all four kilometres of the Changi Airport runway to come to a stop.

Qantas have not commented on this latest description of the incident, which appears to contradict previous assertions that passengers were safe at all times. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is still scouring the nearby Indonesian island of Batam for debris of the A380.

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