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Airbus Fixes Cracked A380 Wings After Manufacturing Fault Found

Airbus SAS said it’s working on a two-step fix of cracked wing brackets on its A380 that emerged during inspections and stem from a combination of manufacturing processes and materials used on the world’s biggest airliner.

Short-term repairs will take five days for each plane and require cutting out the affected wing bracket area and putting in a new piece, said Tom Williams, Airbus head of programs. A longer term solution will include new materials and a different way of assembly, he said. The findings suggest all A380s built so far will eventually need inspections and fixes, Williams said.

“The A380 is safe to fly,” Williams told reporters at a briefing in Dublin. “We’ve taken short-term steps to address the issue and we are working on a longer-term solution.”

The cracks have appeared just as Airbus is starting to move beyond the losses linked to production glitches that had dogged the airliner for years. Airbus parent European Aeronautic, Space & Defence Co. had aimed to break even on the model by 2015, as it wins new customers and ramps up production.

Initially, hairline cracks discovered in some A380 wings in late December were determined to be not very serious, with Airbus calling for fixes only at four-year checks.

A second series of bigger cracks around the central part of the wing were deemed a graver discovery, with European air safety regulators asking that 20 of the double-decker planes be inspected, six within four days, and the rest within six weeks.

Wing Ribs

The cracks can be traced to the choice of a less flexible aluminum alloy used to make the wing brackets, the fashion in which fasteners are put through holes, and the stresses involved in fitting portions of the wing together, Williams said.

Each set of wings has some 4,000 so-called wing-rib feet, which attach the wing’s upper and lower skins to ribs running throughout the wing, though only a ‘handful’ of brackets on any given plane were found to have cracks, Wiliams said.

The ribs aren’t the primary load-carrying structure, which is handled by the front and rear spars, or long beams that run through the plane’s wing, and the skins, Williams said.

“It’s not a massive issue,” said Nick Cunningham, an analyst at London-based Agency Partners. “They just need to put the fix in place, execute it and move on,” he said.

A total of 253 A380s have been ordered by 19 customers, with Emirates, which has ordered 90, being by far the biggest. Dubai-based Emirates has said it was inspecting planes as needed and has declined to offer further comment.

Singapore Airlines, which was the first airline to fly the A380 in October 2007, said one of its A380s with wing cracks has undergone repairs and is back in Service. The carrier will go ahead with repairs on the remaining aircraft before they are returned to service, it said in a statement today.

Emirates has 20 A380s in service, Singapore has 15, Qantas Airways Ltd. has 12, Air France KLM Group’s Air France has eight Deutsche Lufthansa AG has six Korean Air Lines Co. Ltd. has five, and China Southern Co. Ltd. has two. The aircraft has two levels and typically seats about 550 passengers in three classes.

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