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Metal shards from Boeing 787 taking off over Rome rain down on people below (independent.co.uk)
252 points by remote_phone 4 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 122 comments


The plane in question was a 5.5-year-old Boeing 787-8 with the registration LN-LND. The parts are believed to have come from the left engine, a Rolls-Royce Trent 1000, a model that has been plagued with problems.

Link about the problems: https://www.theengineer.co.uk/rolls-royce-problems-trent-100...

Cracking problems in the intermediate pressure (IPT) section of the turbine have plagued the engine since early 2016, five years after its launch. Unscheduled groundings of Trent 1000-powered aircraft cost Rolls-Royce some £450m last year, and Horwood said that addressing the problem was “the single most important issue” currently facing the company.

One of Rolls-Royce’s most important potential customers for Trent 1000, Air New Zealand, recently announced that it has opted for General Electric power-plants for a new batch of 787-10 airliners, although its 787-9 fleets still fly with Trent engines.

I'm reminded of all the jokes Jeremy Clarkson makes at Rolls Royce's expense...

> I'm reminded of all the jokes Jeremy Clarkson makes at Rolls Royce's expense...

Rolls-Royce Holdings only makes aero engines, the cars are made by BMW.

>the cars are made by BMW.

as of 1998.

Most of Clarksons' jokes are in reference to the 70s and 80s era of Rolls Royce -- which is known among auto enthusiasts as one of the least reliable group of cars to have ever existed.

Driving a 1977 Rolls established your wealth without question. Not only could you afford a Rools, you could afford three:

One you’re driving.

One in the shop.

One in the garage in case the one you’re driving goes to the shop before the other one is repaired.

I guess owners graduate from Range Rovers, which drive either to a service shop or just out of one.

Welcome back!

The aero engine and car companies split in 1971.

Why the downvotes for this???

If you know it to be factually wrong then fine, but at least comment to say why it's wrong to save everyone else the bother of searching wikipedia for various incarnations of Rolls Royce to find that is does seem to have split in 1971.


"All the parts falling off this care are of the very finest British manufacturing".

Sold to vickers in 1980.

The 70s rollers were of their era... All cars were unreliable then!

Not mentioned in OP's comment.

Is there a point you wanted to make or is this a non-sequitur?

They also make "marine propulsion systems for commercial and naval customers" according to their web site.

RR aircraft engine business was once BMW's

I'm actually suing an airline in Europe for a cancellation caused by the Trent 1k engine.

I was in Poland and 23 hours before my flight, it was completely cancelled. I spent hours on the phone and finally was able to schedule another flight 3 days later. The problem is the airline knew these airplanes need to be grounded for maintenance much often but continued booking flights as usual. British airlines started losing similar lawsuits recently.

I would not be surprised if someone sued Boeing or RR.

Small shards (in great numbers) that according to a witness on the ground were burning or very hot sounds a lot like (pieces of) blades from the turbine or stator/guide vanes. In both cases it's a very significant engine failure.

Given that the aircraft itself seems otherwise undamaged, and people on the ground reported it 'rained' metal shards, I'd say these parts melted off the turbine and fell out. Significant but not catastrophic.

This ended well, fortunately. But that must have been pretty scary.

A 787 that is out one engine will put extra load on the remaining engine, if that one has gone through a similar life as the one that just dropped bits all over the place I'd not wager on the remaining one being as safe as when it was last inspected. That's a lot of eggs in one basket.

And they don't glide particularly well either, though there are some interesting stories around passenger aircraft and glide landings:


But that one had a good 9000 meters more height to work with and it wasn't over densely populated area either.

> And they don't glide particularly well either

Nonsense! Modern airlines glide exceptionally well. For example a 787 has a glide ratio of over 20:1 !



20:1 from 3000 meters gives you 60 km to line up and land, that's not as bad as a shuttle but not nearly as good as an actual glider. Personally I'd love to be on the ground in that situation.

You can't just land a 787 on a bit of farmland. BTW if you have to deadstick a commercial plane then the 787 is probably the best, it has the best glide ratio of all commercial planes in service today. But I'd hate for that to be put to the test.

My Cessna T206 has a 9:1 glide ratio, though I plan around 7:1 as I am not a factory rest pilot under ideal conditions. And nothing glides as good as a glider. A 20:1 ratio is exceptional for any airplane, let alone a heavy airliner.

To be fair though, I can safely land a Stationair on 700ft of dirt so my options are a bit better than a 787..

That is a nonsensical comparison. Shuttle's glide ratio was 4.5:1 - barely better than a brick

> Shuttle's glide ratio was 4.5:1 - barely better than a brick

A brick has a glide ratio somewhere worse than 1:10; the shuttle (at subsonic speeds) is closer to a sailplane (~40:1, or ~9× better than the shuttle) than a brick (more than 50× worse).

I'd like to see the footage of the brick tests.

Not quite that bad. I hear a wingsuit can get maybe 2.5:1, and that's clearly better than a brick...

Clearly the Shuttle's glide ratio was exceptionally bad, which is exactly why I used it for comparison. It still flies, after all.

> 20:1 from 3000 meters gives you 60 km

Unless you have to turn around to face back to the airport. You've lost a lot of altitude in the turn in that case.

Yep, the 60 km is straight line or nearly straight. As soon as you start to bank and turn you lose altitude faster than the ideal. So the 60 km is a maximum, not a guarantee.

All a moot point when you're over the ocean :)

That's a Sully comment.

A 787 that is out one engine will put extra load on the remaining engine, if that one has gone through a similar life as the one that just dropped bits all over the place I'd not wager on the remaining one being as safe as when it was last inspected. That's a lot of eggs in one basket.

That's why there are restrictions on which RR engines can be put in a 787 as well as a reduction in the ETOPS certification. There've been a few revisions to the Trent, and putting two of the more "unfixed" ones on one airframe is verboten.

Wow is this really how the industry views it? The notion of having one "less fixed" engine on a twin engine commercial jet aircraft is ok, so long as the other engine is the more fixed version? Sounds incredibly risky.

For such a critical component, I figured they would adopt the military position: "2 is one... one is none".

Not as crazy as you think. We train every 6 months for all types of engine failures. And the plane is required to be able to sustain an engine failure at any point of the flight and still make it safely to an airport with quite a bit of margin, otherwise the flight wouldn't go.

So having one "less safe" engine still means everything is much much safer than the drive to the airport.

> So having one "less safe" engine still means everything is much much safer than the drive to the airport.

That's a statement that I'd be happy to see the numerical support for. To hold the number of fatalities of people driving to the airport in total needs to exceed the number of fatalities as a result of airplanes crashing after one engine already failed on a relative scale, related to the number of people on board those aircraft that had one engine fail.

Keep in mind that the chances for messing stuff up increase once one engine is out simply because all your eggs are in a single basket.


This puts the counter at 43 against. I'm sure that we can dig up other examples. I think one engine out is a sufficient change of the underlying stats that the per-passenger mile quote might no longer be valid.

Of course the other input required is how many planes have single engine failures.

That's a nice solution now that we know the engines need fixing. What about when they were first released? Are planes required to have one old-reliable engine?

What about when they were first released?

If memory serves Rolls placed the blame on the initial problems with the Trent 1000 on air quality in SE Asia (high sulfur content specifically). Which is to say, I don't get the impression that certification was done sloppily.

Are planes required to have one old-reliable engine?

Reliability is (theoretically) improved. From following threads on a.net and pprune it seems like Norwegian actually demanded new engines instead of repaired older ones.

Personally, I'm of the mindset that engines are fantastically safe these days. Piston engines were notoriously unreliable, and even older jet engines were deemed unreliable enough to require more than two for oversea crossings. Look back to when the L-1011 was introduced. It was late due to problems with the Rolls Royce RB-211 (predecessor to the Trent family). Even after the L-1011 began service in-flight shutdowns were pretty common. What we're seeing with the 787 is seemingly less frequent and has provoked a stronger reaction. Of course GE (CFM) isn't immune to problems either and if you look back over their history they've had a few nasty problems including that fairly recent Southwest flight with a passenger fatality.

They are much more reliable, but also much more costly to build and maintain. There was an argument that the A380 wasn't less fuel efficient simply because it had four engines. When you only have two engines they need to be much more reliable, have much higher peak output, and the costs of maintenance are greater. Whereas when you have four engines each engine is cheaper to build, can have more efficient power profiles, and are generally cheaper to maintain. All-in-all it's mostly a wash in terms of cost efficiency.

The argument goes that what killed the A380 wasn't having 4 engines, but having 4 old engines. All the newer planes have engines at least 1 if not 2 generations newer. Notably, the A380 wasn't cancelled until it became crystal clear that engine manufacturers weren't going to invest in redesigned engines. That's when the Emirates order fell through. While their year long dance with Airbus over pricing is what got the most press, it was the backroom negotiations with Rolls Royce that controlled whether the A380 remained cost effective.

I thought A380 was doomed because of lack of configurability for a freight option, and the fact that some narrow bodies were starting to eat it's lunch as direct flights started to become more common instead of hub and spoke.

What you've posted though seems way more plausible though I've gotta admit.

There are many reasons why the A380 didn't have a large market, which would indirectly contribute to its cost effectiveness. But there's a dominant, ELI5 narrative that says that the A380 was intrinsically uncompetitive because 4 engined planes couldn't be as fuel efficient as 2 engined planes. Maybe that's true, but I found the counter argument interesting and persuasive.

I think this is the article I originally read,


but it's paywalled. Here's an older article with similar points,


> If memory serves Rolls placed the blame on the initial problems with the Trent 1000 on air quality in SE Asia (high sulfur content specifically).

As a related factoid BMW doesn't sell some of its engines in North American, Australian and Malaysian markets due to high sulphur content in the fuel (e.g. [1]). It would be interesting if the same thing happened for aircraft engines and South-East Asian air.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BMW_N53

That's what testing is for, although I'm not sure how much I'd like to trust Boeing and FAA with testing these days.

>Significant but not catastrophic

Keep in mind, "catastrophic" is a loaded word in aviation safety parlance. It specifically means that failure of a system or component threatens total unrecoverable loss of the aircraft; and is the point where redundancy and fail-safe become required by law in order to certify.

The regulation specifies no single point of failure should result in catastrophic loss.

Any failure is news worthy, but this poster is on point. Chernobyl meme opportunity aside.

"melted off" sounds a bit improbable, actual photos of the shards:


they don't seem melted, rather broken/fractured.

> significant but not catastrophic

So... not great but not horrifying?

Not great, not terrible.

> Significant but not catastrophic

Depends where they land. Rain on a crowded playground and that's catastrophic for many reasons.

I meant catastrophic in the way it is commonly used for aircraft failures: engine disintegrated and not repairable.

Same term is used for a shattered turbine disc. It destroys the engine and is not contained so there is a risk to other components.

I'm honestly curious how part of the turbine melting and falling off in flight can be other than catastrophic.

-Not an aeronautical engineer, but I know that a lot of thought goes into ensuring that pretty much no matter what happens to the engine, debris flying from it is not going to damage the structural integrity of the wing or fuselage.

With redundant hydraulic/fuel/oil systems as well, much can happen to the engine without turning the airplane into a brick with passengers in it.

That being said, I am glad I am not on the Trent 1000 design team.

Insane comment!

One of the pieces in her hand has the unique shape of a fan blade. There’s a series on YouTube documenting the factories where the engines are created: https://youtu.be/UazsDDFsS7Q

The show How It's Made did a cool segment on turbine blades, which really gave me a deep appreciation of the process.


Curious if this was before or after Rolls-Royce thought they'd fixed it.

My first car had a lovely, circular radiator repair job that was exactly the diameter of the bolts on the fan blade. It must have thrown a bolt at some point.

The placement of the dents on all the fins reminds me a bit of that. Looks to me like something broke off, got wedged under one of those stabilizers, smacking the hell out of every single fin on the way before it was finally thrown clear.

Those metal bits look big enough to kill a person. I mean, anything havier than a marble falling from high enough will do a lot of damage, right?

Anything with enough power to smash a hole right through a car windscreen (as in the second picture) can kill you, definitely.

I’m being pedantic here, but there are exceptions to that rule.

In SF, it’s common for car thieves to break windows using a small chip (size of a pencil eraser) of ceramic from a spark plug. The ceramic is super hard but light weight and can shatter a window easily.[1] being hit by it would barely register.

[1] https://youtu.be/llu-ckEe5cQ

If thing is small and heavy - yes. If thing has a surface to it - it could fall significantly slower.

That said anything-metal falling from the sky is dangerous.

It's a miracle only a handful of people were injured.

Great to see the image of the turbines on the plane afterwards.

Those are the same photos.

A British Airways 787 with the Trent 1000 engines had to make an emergency landing in Istanbul on June 15 while en route to London:


2019 has been a true _annus horribilis_ for Boeing.

Well, engin failures are not exactly the rarest of occurrences. It's just that given the context, every stories about Boeing will gain quite a bit of traction. It's probably deserved given how bad the company have messed-up, but let not overreact.

Engine failures are not rare, true, but engine failures pelting populated areas with hot shrapnel are not that common.

The people taking the photos didn’t know what type of plane it was from...

The title of the article should be Metal shards of Rolls-Royce Trend 1000 engine rain down on people below.

It has very little to do with Boeing in this case. But blaming Boeing in the title gets you more clicks, and clicks equals money for journalism.

If a Tesla has a fatal accident because of some 3rd party component, the headlines will blame Tesla, too.

Boeing is not free of responsibility here, they chose to sell said engines as an option on their planes. They have worked together with Rolls Royce to integrate their engines with their plane. In theory, engine problems could even be caused by Boeing's software mismanaging the engines.

The comparison with Tesla is not valid: when you buy a Tesla, you buy a Tesla from Tesla. When you buy a Boeing 787, you chose the engines (GE or Rolls Royce) and buy them directly from the engine maker. You would also sign a maintenance/support contract with the engine maker directly.

It is not rare for plane contracts and engine contracts to not be signed simultaneously: the engine maker might be decided months after the contract for the 787 is firmed. Aircraft engines do not qualify as "some 3rd party component".

A slightly better comparison (but not perfect) would be if you buy a server from Dell with an Intel microprocessor, and there's an issue with that Intel chip: will you blame Intel or Dell? After all you could have picked a Dell server with an AMD processor.

It's not like they can buy any old engine and slap it under the wing. The two engine choices are deeply integrated in the final package. Boeing has been collaborating with R-R and GE for years on software and hardware integration.

The engines are also mounted to the air-frame at Boeing's facilities (since the plane can't really leave under its own power until that happens), so whether the airline pays Boeing or R-R for the engine is just an administrative detail.

As for the server comparison, if you buy a Dell computer, your warranty is from Dell. If something needs to be fixed, Dell will do it and then argue with Intel about who foots the final bill.

The airplane world is a lot more complex, and that is exactly my point – the blame is not 100% with R-R and 0% with Boeing – or vice versa. There's plenty of blame to go around.

Are you telling me airlines have to order and directly buy the engines themselves? Surely not?

Why wouldn't they? Engines are by far the most expensive and critical parts of an airliner. So airlines issue RFPs to engine makers to extract the best possible price/conditions. The result of these RFPs is usually a matter of public announcement, see for instance the choice of CFM (a joint venture between GE and Safran) to power IndiGo A320NEO: https://www.ft.com/content/d1c20f9e-9119-11e9-aea1-2b1d33ac3....

The contract is signed directly between the airline and the engine maker. Of course the engines are installed by the OEM (Boeing, Airbus, etc.), as otherwise delivering the plane would be problematic to say the least...

EDIT: another, more relevant example: Norwegian ordered 19 Boeing 787-9 in October 2015, and selected Rolls-Royce to power them in February 2016 (https://atwonline.com/engines/norwegian-selects-rolls-royce-...)

The engines need to be overhauled and sometimes replaced several times over an aircraft's lifetime, so they are often swapped out and overhauled and then installed on another aircraft. Not only that, but some injection of new engines into the pool is needed.

So airlines sign big contracts with engine manufacturers for new engines, parts, supplies, training, etc.

This also happens even with small single engine airplanes, those engines need overhauls every so many thousand hours, so one option is to trade in your old engine for a refurbished one instead of overhauling and keeping the same engine. For some larger fleets companies have contracts with engineer manufacturers or service centers for this.

So why does Boeing end up paying compensation in court?

Airplane parts are intertwined believe it or not, their engineers spend years working together.

May as well start 26 shell companies named BoeingA to BoeingZ and pretend it was all someone else's fault.

This failure is likely the engine, which is not Boeing's fault. The engines have made it a bad year for Norwegian and other 787 customers, who have had to cut back their schedules to accommodate unplanned engine maintenance. And of course it's been a terrible 18 months for Rolls-Royce.

Is this the same issue that has plagued the Trent 1000 since the beginning or is it something different? It says the plane is 5.5 years but I guess that doesn’t say whether the engine had been modernized.

On the bright side, Rolls seem to have sorted out most issues from the 1000 in their newer engine the XWB.


> Boeing dispatched 737 MAX head VP Keith Leverkuhn to help Rolls-Royce overcome the problems

Well that really inspires confidence.

The new engines are still suffering these same problems, very good chance Norwegian has the newer variant as the older ones are mostly grounded and I'm quite sure Boeing agreed to replace them all years ago.


>Well that really inspires confidence.

For better or worse it appears Boeing is practicing https://codeascraft.com/2012/05/22/blameless-postmortems/

It appears to work in software, so unless demonstrated otherwise I assume it's effective in other engineering disciplines. We can learn from the equivalents of the FAA in other countries where blame automatically gets assigned based on who is in charge, it leads to finger-pointing and worse safety records/poorer investigations: watch a few seasons of Mayday: Air Crash Investigations to see the pattern. You see it especially in more autocratic countries where hierarchy is rigid. One especially good example is Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, there's a good chance we would've found the plane if everyone in the government wasn't practicing CYA which led to significant delays and made the search exponentially harder. Compare that to Air France Flight 447 where the right information was shared with the world immediately (and it still took us two years to find the black boxes).

Boeing has nothing to do with the engines. They are purchased by the end user/airline.

Despite an update and partial retraction in this article. It seems that there are known issues. https://thepointsguy.com/2018/01/norwegian-787-engine-replac...

Videos on the site does not work, I assume because of adblocking. Related video for those who also are too lazy to read https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvxucqNRPRg

Who is responsible from a liability perspective: Boeing, Rolls Royce, or Norwegian?

Chain. Norwegian to the people hurt and property damaged, they will in turn sue Boeing who in turn will sue Rolls Royce.

So the big winners are the lawyers I guess...

I thought the engines and the planes were purchased separately. Or are they bought as a unit for 787s?

I don't know if there are special rules for air traffic. But generally, the immediate operator (i. e. the airline in this case) would be responsible. If any of the manufacturers (or possibly a maintenance contractor) were to be responsible, the airline would simply be able to recover whatever damages they had to pay from them.

Being Rome and all... I could see a bunch of people with any sort of dings in their cars or windshield chips making claims in the near future :-)

Being an Italian born in Rome, I find your comment implying bad faith offensive.

This really doesn't make me feel very confident about getting on a 787 for a 14 hour flight next week.

tbf the Trent 1000 is one of two engine options on the 787; more have GE engines fitted so on the balance of probability your aircraft has a completely different engine anyway.

The ability to fly for extended distances on a single engine is something modern long haul aircraft are designed for and pilots trained for, and even if it's a RR-engined aircraft you're probably more likely to have engine issues with birdstrikes than the apparent metal fatigue issues with the Trent 1000. Looking at the size of those parts that apparently fell I'd feel more unsafe on the ground!

It's an El Al flight, and their entire fleet of 787-9s use RR Trent 1000 engines.

I'm exaggerating a bit about my concern. I know the statistics on modern aviation safety, even with Boeing's, uh, recent track record on such things.

Frankly, in the grand scheme of things, I'm more concerned about my safety driving in Tel Aviv than I am about my flight getting there ;)

It's not the per-passenger-mile safety that you should be concerned with (the ones that are usually trotted out), it is the per-flight safety that you should be concerned with.

That's about 15[1]/45000000 for 2018, not sure what the longer term trends are. So your chances of dying due to an airplane crash if the distribution is random is 1 in 3 million give or take. With 'bits falling out of the engine' the distribution is of course no longer random.

[1] https://edition.cnn.com/2019/01/02/health/plane-crash-deaths...

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelgoldstein/2018/12/28/air...

edit: found better figures.

If it has GEnx engines you have little to worry about. The easiest way to tell the difference is the GE has metal leading edges on the fan. The Trent fans are all cfrp.

Can you tell this when booking your tickets? It isn't a detail I've seen using most travel websites or even an airline's own app.

Last minute airplane swaps are not uncommon, so such a feature doesn't necessarily help.

You probably can figure it out with some sleuthing. For one example, SeatGuru records every airline fleet's different plane types. Once you have airline + plane type for each of that airline's routes, I bet you can dig up the engine type from that info.

If it has GEnx engines you have little to worry about.

GE has also had problems with the GEnx including a double engine failure on a 787.

On the contrary, it makes me more confident.

Engine parts melt and fall off, and the plane doesn't seem disturbed. Awesome engineering!

Boeing is a company of truly stunning arrogance and greed. Boeing's case against Bombardier was when I had my personal "oh shit" moment and realized they'd started doing work with paper instead of doing work with wrenches. Any company which starts down that road has little chance of getting off, and it ends with dead people.

The lack of mention of Rolls-Royce here seems more than a little amiss, considering the engine flaw seems to be due to their error as far as I have heard.

Also it seems the airline chooses the engine type they want on their planes, not Boeing. It's a purchase option.

It might be the purchase time option commits the airworthiness type certificate to a particular engine make/model (or range of them). Typically the airplane lease is separate from the engine lease, which helps the airline deal with the totally separate maintenance requirements between airframe and powerplant.

You don't know the cause. Could have been a bird ingestion on this or a previous flight.

I agree, but then there's no reason to only target Boeing as the OP did. Based on what we know that it's almost certainly metal from the engine, the one company that's most likely to be responsible is Rolls-Royce so if we had to prematurely pick one it wouldn't be Boeing.

Sounds like someone forgot to take the FOD out of the aircraft

Oh, and it's raining again

Light on your car light, bullets on tin.

For years I'd thought it was "like bullets on tin".

Most lyrics sites seem to have the lyrics you said, but there's still some with the version I thought. I can't find any official source of lyrics either.

I've now listened to the video clip[1] a dozen times trying to figure out which it is, and honestly I'm no closer.

[1] https://youtu.be/NdZHZZtJacg?t=25

Hold me closer, Tony Danza!

Oh man Boeing just can’t catch a break lately

So Rome has a science police?

Reminds me how excited I was when I found out there was a religion based around science.

It should be translated as "forensic police" or "CSI: Rome".


Just the typical Italian overstatement. We exaggerate a million times a day.

And this is what a culture of management bonuses causes. I don’t want to ever fly Boeing again at this rate...

The downside button is not meant as a disagree button.

Anyway, there was likely nothing Boeing could do at the early design stage to make up for poor choices on the engine manufacturers part except a higher degree of scrutiny with regards to the actual manufacturing facility and essentially double checking all of RR's work.

Considering they are questionable at certifying their own work, I'd not necessarily look to burden them with being an engine manufacturer on top of an airframe one. As irritating to me as that is that quality departments typically don't integrate vertically or even share that type of info to enable that type of analysis.

It was a problem with the engine, not the airframe. The 787 ships with Rolls-Royce and GE engines - the GE equipped ones are fine. Boeing manufactures the planes, and then works with engine manufacturers to offer various options for powering them. The airlines choose which engines they'd like to install on their aircraft.

GE, for all of its faults as a corporation (the stock price is what, $9-something now?), makes very good jet engines.

it's just plug and play hey?

What does this have to do with Boeing? Engine was from Rolls-Royce. The customer decides what engines they want to install on the plane.

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