Airbus A380s Inspected After Engine Explosion

VIDEO: Lisa Stark Reports on the harrowing flight for hundreds of terrified passengers.
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Airbus and engine-maker Rolls-Royce have asked airlines to inspect all the engines on their A380 superjumbo jets after an engine on a Qantas plane blew out this morning, forcing an emergency landing.

The engine apparently shot out flames and spewed large chunks of metal before the plane landing safely in Sydney, according to witnesses aboard the four-engine plane. The cause of the blowout wasn't immediately clear.

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Qantas quickly grounded all six of its Airbus A380s, the world's largest passenger aircraft.

Singapore Airlines and German carrier Lufthansa also fly the A380 with the same Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine.

"All of our A380 aircraft will undergo a precautionary set of technical checks as advised by the manufacturers," Singapore spokesman James Boyd told ABC News. Boyd said Airbus and Rolls-Royce recommended a boroscope inspection, an internal look at engine parts

"This is a very reliable aircraft," Boyd added. "It's a very good aircraft. We've been very happy about it."

Despite additional A380 engine checks, Lufthansa will not cancel any flights, airline spokeswoman Lisa Dukowsk said.

"Rolls-Royce recommends airlines which operate the Trent 900 engines to run additional engine checks," she said. "Lufthansa will run those checks during the existing, planned ground times in Frankfurt and abroad and don't expect any disruptions to our operations by this."

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"Engine failures are rare. Uncontained failures are very rare," said William Voss of the Flight Safety Foundation. "Since the Sioux City crash, manufacturers have been careful to design aircraft so that critical systems are not damaged if an uncontained failure occurs."

"The engine failure on Qantas was very unusual and very severe," Voss added. "It is particularly troubling that there appears to be damage to the wing as a result of the failure. The good news is that it appears everything kept operating normally since the pilot took the time to dump fuel and make a normal landing."

An Airbus spokeswoman refused to comment about the inspection directive and Rolls-Royce didn't immediately provide a spokesperson.

"The aircraft landed safely in Singapore and Airbus is providing all necessary technical assistance," Airbus spokeswoman Mary Anne Greczyn said. "An investigation will be led by Australian authorities. Airbus is providing full support and is dispatching a team."

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Other aviation experts say that planes are built with multiple redundancies. The A380 has four engines and can safely fly with just two.

"I think the only reason it's newsworthy is probably because it is an A380. It doesn't sound like it was a big deal," John Eakin of Air Data Research told ABC News. "I don't want to scare anyone, but engines malfunction all the time, well not all the time. It's not unusual, let's put it that way."

R. John Hansman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, added that "since this is a four-engine airplane, the loss of engine was not such a big issue but the uncontained failure could have damaged the pressure vessel [ie: cabin] or other systems in the wing."

Qantas seems to be placing blame with Rolls-Royce.

Airline CEO Alan Joyce said at a Sydney news conference today that all A380 services are being suspended until "we are completely confident that Qantas safety requirements have been met."

Joyce appeared to blame the engine, made by Rolls-Royce. Qantas has never had a fatal crash since it introduced jet-powered planes in the late 1950s.

"This issue, an engine failure, has been one that we haven't seen before. So we are obviously taking it very seriously, because it is a significant engine failure," he said.

Air France and Dubai's Emirates also fly the A380 -- in fact, they are the only two airlines besides Qantas to serve U.S. airports with the superjumbo -- but both airlines use Engine Alliance GP7200 engines; not the Rolls-Royce engine in questions. (Engine Alliance is a consortium of General Electric, Pratt & Whitney and MTU of Germany.)

"We're closing monitoring the technical inquiry and remaining in contact with Airbus but we have not had any orders from the manufacturer to stop flying," Air France spokeswoman Karen Gillo told ABC News. "We are operating a normal flight schedule. Obviously, flight safety is a paramount for us and we will continue to monitor this."

Qantas Flight Makes Emergency Landing

The A380 debuted in October 2007 and this is the most-severe incident to date.

Qantas flight 34 took off from Singapore at 9:46 a.m. and ran into engine trouble 15 minutes into the flight.

"There was flames -- yellow flames came out, and debris came off. ... You could see black things shooting through the smoke, like bits of debris," passenger Rosemary Hegardy, 60, of Sydney, told The Associated Press.

Residents on the western Indonesian island of Batam, near Singapore, helped authorities pick up more than 100 pieces of debris scattered in 15 locations in Batam. The pieces were mostly small, torn metal but some were the size of doors.

Hegardy said the pilot informed passengers of the engine trouble and that the plane would have to dump fuel before it could land. The plane landed after one hour and 50 minutes.

Qantas has configured its A380s to seat up to 525 people. Today's flight had 440 passengers and 26 crew.

Airbus has delivered a total of 37 A380s so far. Thirteen are in service with Emirates, 11 with Singapore Airlines, six with Quantas, four with Air France and three with Lufthansa.

There have been other problems with the A380, but none this severe.

In September 2009, a Singapore Airlines A380 was forced to turn around in mid-flight and head back to Paris after an engine malfunction. On March 31, a Qantas A380 with 244 people on board burst two tires on landing in Sydney after a flight from Singapore.

Last August, a Lufthansa crew shut down one of the engines as a precaution before landing at Frankfurt on a flight from Japan, after receiving confusing information on a cockpit indicator.

With reports from ABC News' Lisa Stark and Matt Hosford and the Associated Press

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