What has caused the fan hub and fan case to detach from engine 4 on Air France A380 F-HPJE over Greenland on September 30, 2017? French and Danish accident investigators have been going at length to identify the cause and announced on July 1 they recently made an important finding.
After a seven-week search in South Greenland experts on June 29/30 retrieved part of the fan hub and a number of blades still attached to it covered by four meters of ice and snow. The part has been sent to Engine Alliance for further investigation and hopefully conclusive evidence of the cause of the malfunction.
The Air France A380 was in-flight as AF66 from Paris to Los Angeles with 497 passengers and 24 crew, when over Ivigtut in Greenland the front section of engine 4 detached. The crew made a successful emergency landing at Goose Bay and no one was injured.
The Danish aviation authorities (Greenland is part of Denmark) delegated the accident investigation to the French Bureau d’Enquete et d’Analyses (BEA). Within a month of the incident sections of the fan case and other parts were retrieved from remote icy fields, but further attempts were halted as winter set in. In total Danish investigators tried four times in 2017 and 2018 to trace missing parts, notably the fan hub, as it was seen as the most likely root of the problem on the GP7200.
Earlier this year BAE announced it would undertake another attempt to find the fan hub this Spring, having pinpointed the most likely area down to a field of ice and snow 2 by 5 kilometers wide and full of crevasses in the South of Greenland. The search did happen a few weeks ago. Specialized search times camped for seven weeks on site amidst blizzards, polar bears and temperatures of as low as -35 Celsius. Using high-tech equipment like a transient electromagnetic instrument and ground penetrating radar on a robot they traced a 150-kilogram titanium part four meters deep in the ice bed. It took them two days the dig up the part and retrieve it.
Identifying the cause of the fan detachment is essential for operators of the A380s powered by GP7200s, a joint product from General Electric and Pratt & Whitney. There are 130 of them in operation: 90 with Emirates and 10 each with Air France, Korean Air, Qatar Airways, and Etihad Airways. No other fan hub incidents on this engine type are known, although another Air France A380 suffered a serious engine issue on March 10, 2019. On the day forever linked to the fatal crash of the Ethiopian Boeing MAX 8, Air France A380 HPJC was forced to return to Abidjan (Ivory Coast) after engine 1 suffered multiple fan blade failures. The exact cause is still under investigation.
On November 11, 2012, Emirates A380 A6-EDA suffered an uncontained failure in engine 3 after overheating of nozzles near High-Pressure Turbine 2-area caused an explosion. The aircraft with 408 occupants safely returned to Sydney. Engine Alliance had been aware of the problem since 2010 and had modified the nozzle design, but this came too late for the affected engine. Since then no more nozzle issues have been reported.