Time for another update on Rolls Royce PLC, and the implications of the previous Trent 900 in-air aircraft engine failure.  In our prior Supply Chain Matters commentary, we noted that manufacturers may have the best, most highly engineered product, but when some unforeseen incident occurs, they cannot leave the narrative of the incident and its potential implications to others. That scenario continues to play out for Rolls.

Financial and business media reports regarding the after-effects of the in-air, unconstrained failure of a Rolls Trent 900 engine attached to a Qantas Airbus A380 shortly after takeoff from Singapore are now taking on significant supply chain implications. The last public statement from Rolls indicated that they had determined the cause of the engine failure, and that it was confined to a specific component in the turbine area.  While the fix supposedly involves the replacement of a tube located in the turbine module, the repair requires the removal of the entire engine from the aircraft.  A recent AP syndicated report notes that is was very fortunate that the Qantas A380 that suffered the engine failure had five pilots in the cockpit.  Engine pieces that blew out as a result of the failure sliced electrical cables, hydraulic lines, and punctured two fuel tanks located on the wings. In all, cockpit pilots had to deal with 54 separate computer warning alerts related to system failures, and handled the entire situation with remarkable professionalism.  Others credit Airbus for designing an aircraft with good design and redundant backup systems in critical systems.

Alan Joyce, the CEO of Qantas Airways was quoted as indicating that as many as 40 Trent 900 engines may require swap-out from existing A380’s. According to the Wall Street Journal, there are a total of 20 four-engine A380’s distributed among Qantas, Singapore and Lufthansa fleets, which imply that half of the existing forward deployed engines will have to be swapped out. Qantas’s A380 fleet remains grounded while the other two airlines continue to fly their Rolls equipped A380’s.albeit with highly stringent pre-flight inspections.

Rolls is facing two significant challenges, one related to supply chain and one related to image.  Insuring that customers can continue to operate existing Rolls powered A380’s implies a supply chain backward cannibalization of staged completed engines, the cost of which will probably be borne by Rolls.  That problem is one that will eventually get solved.

The image issue is perhaps something different.  While engine failures are not uncommon, structural-related blowout failures are of far more concern.  The fact that the CEO of a high profiled customer, Qantas in this case, is singularly communicating news about engine remediation does not, in my view,  context Rolls as being in command or control of the narrative.  Rather, it implies that each airline carrier will have a different narrative concerning the Trent 900 engine and its ongoing integrity.

We believe that at a minimum, Rolls needs to get itself into the narrative, reminding all that there are more than 1700 Trent family engines already performing reliable service. There is a need to continually reinforce a commitment to insure the ultimate safety of its engines and to relate to all impacted air travelers, the specific steps being taken to remediate the problem for all air carriers. As noted previously, executives need to be visible, with a presence of taking control, and a determination to respond to all questions and needs.  That is the new normal of risk mitigation and in requires a clear, visible presence.

Bob Ferrari