Should Qantas Replace Its Airbus 380s With Boeing 747s? Qantas, Australia's national airline, has never had a fatal crash since it introduced jet-powered planes in the late 1950s. It's the only major airline that can say that, and that reputation for safety is one it justifiably wants to protect.

But Qantas is in a pickle following its decision to ground its six Airbus A380s Thursday after an engine on one of them exploded as it flew over Indonesia. The Los Angeles Times reported that the plane was "shooting flames and raining large metal chunks before making a safe emergency landing in Singapore with 459 people aboard." Needless to say, it was extremely lucky for all concerned that the engine failure did not have worse consequences.

According to Bloomberg, Airbus is trying to fill the gap in its system caused by the grounding of the A380s by replacing them temporarily with some of its 27 Boeing (BA) 747s. The real question though, is what Qantas should do long term: Should it make that transition to 747s permanent?

A380: Over Budget, Undersold and Way Behind Schedule

The double-decker A380, which debuted in October 2007, is the world's largest airliner, a product Airbus had hoped would seal competitor Boeing's doom. But as I wrote in my book about Boeing, You Can't Order Change, the 555-seat A380 is highly unlikely to make a profit for Airbus because it suffered major delays and ended up costing at least $12 billion instead of the original $5 billion.

Moreover, demand has turned out to be much smaller than the 1,000 planes Airbus originally anticipated selling. As the Los Angeles Times reports, Airbus has only delivered 37 of them in the last three years -- Emirates Airline (13), Singapore Airlines (11), Qantas (6), Air France (4) and Lufthansa (3). So far, only 243 more A380s are on order, according to The Age.

Should Qantas stop flying those A380s for good and replace them permanently with Boeing 747s. In doing so, it would be getting an older aircraft (the model has been around for 40 years) that's smaller (467 seats for the latest 747-8I model to be rolled out by mid-2011, according to Airline Reporter) but has a comparable range (8,000 nautical miles with 467 passengers compared to 8,000 nautical miles for the A380, according to Aerospace Technology).

Troubling Questions About Rolls-Royce Engines

Unfortunately, the 747 might not actually be a solution to the specific problem at hand. That's because the culprit in the A380 incident appears to be the plane's Rolls-Royce engine -- a Rolls-Royce RB211 Trent 900, which is the most common type fitted to A380s. (According to Aerospace Technology, the A380 is also available with the General Electric (GE)/Pratt & Whitney Engine Alliance GP7200.)

As it turns out, the Boeing 747 also comes with the option of a Rolls-Royce engine. And in October 2010, a Rolls-Royce engine on a Boeing 747 exploded just after takeoff from San Francisco, according to The Age.

Nor was Thursday's incident the only time a Rolls Royce engine has failed recently. According to The New York Times, there have been at least two cases over the last year in which A380s with Trent 900 engines were forced to land after engine failures. On Friday, Qantas passengers suffered a scare when a 747 returned to Singapore after another Rolls-Royce engine burned out. And as I reported in a DailyFinance article in August, a Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 test engine on the Boeing 787 blew up during a ground test.

It appears that Qantas doesn't have any ideal options, but it sure would be nice if the airline could acquire some 747s with engines from a safer manufacturer. Fortunately, the 747-8I comes with the GE GEnx engine, according to Airline Reporter.

Perhaps that's what Qantas will do. The airline wants to maintain its fatality-free record and Boeing could always use more sales. Meanwhile, Airbus must be scrambling to keep the 37 A380s it already has sold in service, and hoping that this latest incident doesn't lead to any order cancellations.

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Roy Feng

This post is full of inaccurate information. For one, anyone with a single iota of knowledge about airplanes would know that Airbus only offers Rolls Royce engines or Engine Alliance engines to go the A380. Pratt and Whitney, GE, and other smaller companies all were rejected by Airbus or rejected Airbus' requirement to develope a new engine for their "queen of the skies."

December 27 2015 at 10:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Buy American and vote Republican-----------------

November 10 2010 at 9:57 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Airliner orders are way down because of the recession now. GE is probably the only one that can build the biggest jet engines around. I dont know about Pratt Whitney, maybe same. RollsRoyce may not have the resources to develop bigger jet engines.

November 05 2010 at 10:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Gumby's comment

Yes Gumby--The resources they lack is American moxie

November 10 2010 at 10:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Roy Feng

Rolls Royce's problem is not the unavailability of immediate resources, rather it it because they don't incorporate enough modern technological advancements into their engines. The GE90 can reach its size because of the lightweight carbon fiber composites fan blades and ceramic compressor plates. RR goes by the heavier, standard metal; which means the stress will destroy the engine at higher speeds than rated.

December 27 2015 at 10:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Absolutely. The AirBus was rushed into production. They wanted to beat out Boeing. I will never fly with any Airline schedule which includes this monsterous of an airplane.

November 05 2010 at 5:14 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Qantas Flight 6 a 747-400 had an engine failure today on departure from Singapore, made a safe landing back to Singapore on 3 engines. Two engine failure in two days, superb airmanship displayed by the crews. Perhaps Peter Cohan could write an article with a hypothesis that Qantas should accelerate their replacement of older 747-400s with A380s. Qantas has a lot of close shaves with the 747, for example the runway overrun in Bangkok in a 747-400 causing over 100 million dollars in repairs.

November 05 2010 at 3:20 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I don't know why the Writer, Peter Cohan, is making this silly statements, that for sure, are not thoughts or indications by anyone on the Quantas Board. I agree in in great part with J.R.Gilbert, and until such time that the proximate cause of this event has been determined, if I were the writer, I would keep these propagandistic slogans (in favour of BOEING) in your desk-drawer. After your statement, I hope you have better things to teach your students at BABSON College

November 05 2010 at 12:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

One option Quantas has is to off lease the current RR powered A380s for A380's with the GE engine, if the investigation proves its a design flaw. Today's jet engines do fail, but the failure must be contained inside the engine housing. That is the liability of the RR engine. It didn't get that part of the design requirement done and that can be a fatal flaw.

November 05 2010 at 11:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"Accord to Australian newspaper The Age, Airbus is trying to fill the gap in its system caused by the grounding of the A380s by replacing them temporarily with Boeing (BA) 747s." "Should Airbus stop flying those A380s for good and replace them permanently with Boeing 747s." Unless your suggesting that Airbus should replace its own planes with its competitors, what business purpose that would serve I'm not sure, add a markup maybe? You probably should proofread your articles every now and then

November 05 2010 at 11:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
J. R. Gilbert

The cost to replace the 380's would be monumental. Quantas will preferably work with the engineers at Roles Royce to identify and fix the problem. The media would be well advised to refrain from jumping to (and printing) conclusions based on their own corporate net income in lieu of factual data. Whether you accept that fact or not, you must be held responsible for PROFESSIONAL journalism. I am a commercial pilot as well as a Professional Mechanical Enginner. I can't tell you what happened---who in the hell are you to even speculate on something that you obviously know absolutley nothing about? Maybe you should work on a cure for cancer given your massive knowledge of the universe. Professional Prosititution belongs in the bedroom. Do you want to be a journalist or a prosititute? The media has earned a profound and shameful motto--"Never let the facts get in way of a good story." There are individuals far more qualified than you who will investigate the incident within the confines of scientific root cause analysis in order to determine a cause and solution. Stick to your apparent core competency and go chase hookers.

November 05 2010 at 11:14 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

i am not an aviation expert so please excuse me if i'm mistaken, but isn't airbus a franco/british product? if so, i didn't see in the article where any british airline owned any. odd?

November 05 2010 at 10:49 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply