The planemaker has asked airlines to inspect the wing's "spars" or
main internal beams during regular major overhauls carried out after
six years in service, and then again at 12 years, instead of waiting
for the 12-year overhaul, they said.
The move comes as Airbus emerges from a painful two-year program of
modifications and hundreds of millions of euros of financial charges
triggered by the discovery of cracks on brackets inside the wings of
A380 jets already flying.
This time, however, Airbus has not so far been able to duplicate the
fatigue test results on any aircraft in service.
The double-decker A380 entered service in 2007 with Singapore
Airlines <SIAL.SI> followed by the largest customer, Emirates, which
would be first in line to carry out the increased checks.
An Airbus spokeswoman confirmed the discovery of unspecified
"fatigue findings" on a factory test plane.
"This will be addressed during routine maintenance inspections and
the aircraft remains safe to fly," she said.
Most aircraft undergo a regular pattern of checks from small daily
ones to heavy maintenance checks every five or six years.
Aircraft industry experts have known for decades that metal fatigue
cannot be eliminated, but have worked out a system for monitoring it
backed up by mandatory maintenance schedules.
The test plane used for the A380 fatigue tests is used to replicate
the wear and tear that the superjumbo would endure during three
times its normal life, the spokeswoman said.
"Fatigue tests are a normal part of the design and certification
process," she said.
Airlines nonetheless face unanswered questions over whether the
inspections could lead to further expensive repairs.
"There may eventually have to be some kind of an upgrade at the
overhaul stage but no action is required now," an industry source
said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
[to top of second column]
Airlines are also sensitive to the amount of time an aircraft has to
remain offline for each maintenance visit.
While the brackets that caused the company's 2012 wing cracks crisis
are not individually viewed as critical parts, wing spars are beams
that run outwards from the fuselage and are a fundamental part of
the airplane's structure.
Each A380 has three spars holding up the wing.
To deal with the earlier problem of cracked brackets, Airbus devised
a temporary fix followed by a permanent one that has been gradually
working its way through the production line.
Qatar Airways, which refused to take aircraft with the temporary
patch in order to avoid having to put them back for further work, is
due to take its first three fully modified aircraft in June.
The airline's chief executive said earlier he may exercise options
for three more A380s on top of 10 already ordered, and may order
even more if the jet performs well in service.
But he expressed doubts over the A380's ability to fly profitably on
some of the world's longest routes.
Qatar Airways plans to introduce A380 services this summer starting
with Doha to London, which is well inside the range of the 525-seat
(Additional reporting by Victoria Bryan;
editing by Lionel Laurent and Jonathan Oatis)
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