What Caused Air France’s Uncontained A380 Engine Failure?

On September 30th, 2017, Air France Flight 66 was heading from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport to Los Angeles International Airport. However, the Airbus A380 suffered an uncontained engine failure. Therefore, it made an emergency landing at Goose Bay Airport, Canada. A report shared today by the Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) has now concluded that this failure was caused by a lack of scientific understanding about the alloy used for the plane’s engine parts.

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What was the actual cause of the engine issue during the flight to LAX? Photo: Getty Images

Under scrutiny

Approximately this time three years ago, registration F-HPJE was carrying 497 passengers and 24 members of Air France’s crew when the incident happened. The aircraft’s engine number four then failed with an explosion after five hours in the air. This occurred 150 kilometres (90 miles) southeast of Paamiut, Greenland. There were no fatalities during the event.

AeroTime reports that examiners noticed that the first rotating fan assembly at the front of an engine and the air inlet, along with the fan case, had separated mid-flight. This caused minor structural damage to the superjumbo. Altogether, it has taken 21 months for investigators to piece all the information together until now.

Air France, Airbus A380, Retired
Researchers found A380 engine fragments In Greenland last year. Photo: Getty Images

The specifics

Engine Alliance produced the GP7200 engine. This firm is a joint venture of General Electric and Pratt & Whitney. The outfit used titanium alloy Ti-6-4. However, during this time, the scientific community was not familiar with the alloy’s susceptibility to cold dwell fatigue. Above all, the researchers affirm that Airbus is not at all at fault regarding this incident.

AeroTime highlights that plane engine metal alloys are often expected to perform at over 300˚C (572˚F). Although there can be ‘cold’ dwell fatigue if the motor works at a cooler temperature than that, considerably lowering the expected engine cycles to failure.

During this incident in 2017, the Air France aircraft’s engine failed after 3,544 flight cycles. Yet the estimated minimum life of the titanium part was 15,000 cycles.

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Air France has since retired its A380 aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

Going forward

Altogether, the Ti-6-4 alloy was not considered sensitive to cold dwell fatigue before the failure of this A380’s engine number 4’s fan hub. Regardless, both the European Union Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have now been told to ensure that the design, sizing, and manufacturing criteria for the alloy engine parts are updated. Additionally, they should adopt a new in-service inspection program to detect possible indications of cold dwell fatigue regarding these alloys.

Notably, this incident saw the second uncontained engine failure suffered by an A380. Previously, there was an issue on a Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine that Qantas was flying in 2010.

What are your thoughts about what caused Air France’s Airbus A380 uncontained engine failure? What do you make of these findings by the Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety? Let us know what you think of the situation in the comment section.