Qantas fears engine design fault after A380 drama

Qantas said Friday a mid-air drama involving a flagship A380 superjumbo may have been caused by a design fault in its Rolls-Royce engines, raising questions over the giant long-haul craft.

Chief executive Alan Joyce said early investigations pointed to a "material failure or a design issue" in the Airbus plane's engines after one exploded minutes after take-off from Singapore, prompting an emergency landing.

However, Joyce said Qantas' five other A380s -- the world's biggest passenger jet -- could be back in action within days, after safety checks by Rolls-Royce and Qantas engineers in Los Angeles and Sydney.

"This is an engine issue and the engines were maintained by Rolls-Royce since being installed on the aircraft," Joyce told reporters at the Australian flag-carrier's Sydney headquarters.

"We believe that this is most likely some kind of material failure or a design issue... we don't believe this is related to maintenance in any way."

The comments are the first to shed light on Thursday's events, when engine casing rained down on an Indonesian town and the superjumbo with 466 people on board dumped fuel before returning to Singapore.

He said that a second engine, next to the one that exploded, would not shut down after the landing, raising further concerns.

Rolls-Royce urged airlines to carry out "basic precautionary checks" on its Trent 900 engines after the incident.

Some 37 of the giant planes are currently in use around the world.

Qantas has grounded its fleet of six A380s but Joyce said they could return to the skies within 48 hours if they come through eight hours of safety checks.

Since its 2007 launch, fuel and computer glitches have grounded several A380s and one Air France flight was forced back to New York after problems with its navigation system in November 2009.

In April, a Qantas A380 damaged tyres on landing from Singapore in Sydney, causing a shower of sparks. Joyce said tyres also burst during Thursday's incident, but described that as "not significant".

Shares in Qantas fell 1.04 per cent to 2.86 Australian dollars in Friday trade.