Plane Talking has an interesting think piece about the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine that powers the Qantas Airbus A380.
As readers know, a Trent 900 had an uncontained failure on QF32 that severely damaged the A380. Qantas still hasn’t returned the A380 fleet to full service while questions about the Trent 900 remain unresolved.
Rolls-Royce has been uncommunicative to Qantas, and to Airbus, according to both companies, adding difficulties to the recovery of the program.
This portends something that has greater implications.
As readers also know, the QF32 incident was preceded by an uncontained failure on a test stand of a Trent 1000. The Trent 1000 powers the 787. RR insists the incidents are unrelated, but both had to do with oil leaks, fires and explosions. There may have been no systemic design failure connection, as RR claims, but by being less than forthright, one cannot help but wonder if there is.
We talked with an engineer a few months ago who isn’t involved in either incident but who knows RR. His view is that in looking at the Trent 1000 and Trent 900 incidents, focus on the design is actually looking in the wrong direction. Rather, the system issues at RR, this engineer tells us, are in the culture that are leading to the performance failures.
This leads to the development of the Trent XWB for the A350 currently underway. If there are indeed design issues common to the Trent 900 and Trent 1000–despite RR statements to the contrary (and we don’t know if there are or aren’t, but remain skeptical given the absence of clarity from RR)–will these filter over to the Trent XWB?
Regardless of this question, the larger one of systemic cultural issues certainly puts risk into the Trent XWB development. Additionally, we believe Boeing is right that the Trent XWB isn’t big enough to provide the promised performance for the A350-1000, and RR will likely have to do more than is currently planned.
Given the delays in the A380 and 787 programs, and the deferrals of huge cash flow to the supply chain–including, of course, RR–and the development of the Trent XWB, RB282/285 and the open rotor, RR’s cash flow is clearly under pressure, to put it mildly. This frankly leads us to be concerned about the company’s ability to get the job done on these programs.
Rolls-Royce is major cause for concern these days on the A380, 787 and A350 programs. If we were Airbus, we’d be deeply concerned about the potential impact on the A350 and would strive for a second engine source. GE’s GEnx is big enough for the A350-800/900, and GE originally was going to power the A350′s original design. But GE will not power the A350-1000 due to contractual obligations to Boeing to exclusively power the 777-300 in this class of airplane.
Pratt & Whitney’s Geared Turbo Fan has the ability to grow to 110,000 lbs thrust, but PW’s parent, United Technologies, says it will be a decade before such an engine will be available. Boeing is interested in this engine for a 777 replacement.
Whether PW could accelerate the development of a 110k is unknown but it is probably certain doing so by the promised 2015 EIS of the A350-1000 is unlikely.
Airbus has real cause for concern about RR and the Trent XWB. We simply are unable to gauge how deep this concern is or should be.