Blast-hit Qantas A380 back in service after repairs

A Qantas Airbus A380 jet that dramatically lost an engine in a mid-air blast off Singapore in November 2010 was formally handed back to the Australian flag carrier Saturday after extensive repairs.

The near-disaster led to the temporary grounding of the Australian flag carrier's entire fleet of A380 super jumbos, the world's largest commercial passenger plane, for inspection.

Pilots managed to guide the plane back to Singapore's Changi airport, where it landed with a plume of smoke in its wake, after the engine exploded over the Indonesian island of Batam.

Qantas dubbed the repaired plane Nancy Bird Walton, in honour of Australia's first female commercial pilot, and said bringing it back into service was "one of the biggest repair jobs in aviation".

"Qantas is proud to reintroduce Nancy Bird Walton back into service," said Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce.

"After 18 months, Aus$139 million ($144.30 million) and nearly 100,000 man hours of work, the aircraft is now going back into service.

Joyce said Qantas' insurer paid for the cost of repairs and engine-maker Rolls-Royce compensated the carrier Aus$95 million for the grounding of the aircraft.

Joyce was speaking to reporters before Airbus handed the plane back to Qantas in a ceremony at Changi, which was held under the left wing of the hulking aircraft.

Captain Richard de Crespigny, who was piloting the aircraft when the blast happened, received the flight log book from Airbus engineers.

Australian safety investigators have said that an oil leak in a turbine may have caused the explosion.

All four engines were replaced as advised by Rolls-Royce. The repairs, which involved 170 Airbus staff from eight nations, were carried out at the hangar of SIA Engineering, a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines.

"It was a very complex operation that required six weeks of planning before we even got started," said Alan Milne, head of Qantas' integrated operations centre.

Components had to be shipped to Singapore from various parts of the world, Milne told AFP.

The aircraft will leave Singapore on Saturday evening for Sydney with de Crespigny at the helm.

The plane will make its first commercial flight on April 28 from Sydney to Hong Kong.

"I have absolute, complete confidence in this aircraft and I am very pleased that my CEO is going back on the flight tonight," de Crespigny said.

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