A China Eastern Airlines plane was forced to turn back to Sydney this week after a massive hole was ripped in its engine cowling.

Flight MU736 from Sydney at 8:30pm on Sunday turned back an hour into its trip after the fault occurred, landing safely in Sydney with firefighters on the tarmac to assist, a Sydney Airport spokesperson said.

No-one was injured in the incident.

China Eastern Airlines Oceania has issued a statement saying the plane “encountered an engine problem after take-off”.

“The crew observed the abnormal situation of the left engine and decided to return to Sydney airport immediately,” it said.

Passengers reported hearing a loud bang immediately after take-off.

An Airservices Australia spokesperson the engine fault was reported to the tower shortly after take-off, which triggered an air traffic standard procedure to manage an aircraft emergency.

“The returned aircraft is currently under investigation at Sydney airport,” China Eastern said.

Australia Transport Safety Bureau inspectors have been despatched to examine the plane.

Aviation expert Professor Jason Middleton said it was “a very rare event”.

“Remarkable set of photos, most unusual, I've never seen that sort of thing happen before,” he told the ABC.

“It appears to be on engine one which is the left engine.

“Looks like the engine casing or cowling has ripped off, forward of the fan the main initial compressor blade, it's ripped clean off.

“Looks like there's obviously been some preliminary damage in order for that to happen.

“How that might have happened, I'm not sure.

“It's quite possible if there was some minor damage that they didn't see.

“At its climbing speed it will be getting faster and faster and that may have been the trigger to rip off some of that engine casing.”

Professor Middleton said the aircraft could fly comfortably with power from only one engine, and that the landing procedure was one of the most commonly practices for commercial pilots.

Some have linked this week’s event to similar damage sustained by a similar plane flying for Emirates Airlines in 2012.