More cracks found in Airbus A380 wings

2012-01-20 08:29

Paris - Airbus insisted its A380 superjumbo is safe to fly after another set of cracks was discovered in the wings of the world's largest jetliner , though an engineering union said it was downplaying the issue and some Asian airlines said they would develop inspection programmes.

It is the second time in as many weeks that hairline cracks have surfaced inside the mammoth double-decker jet, which entered service four years ago, and their discovery is expected to lead to expanded safety checks.

Airbus said the cracks were found on a number of "non-critical" brackets inside the wings of two aircraft during routine two-year inspections, after similar flaws showed up in five aircraft in early January.

It said the cracks did not prevent the A380 flying safely, but the Australian engineering body which handles routine servicing and engine checks on the superjumbos operated by Qantas Airways said Airbus's reaction was concerning.

" They (Airbus) have described these as tiny cracks, but every crack starts off as a tiny crack and they can grow very quickly ," said Stephen Purvinas, Federal Secretary of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association .

"I would be worried that Airbus aren't taking seriously the ever increasing number of cracks being found in the wings of their A380 aircraft. Put it this way, I wouldn't put my family on an A380 at the moment ," he said.

Ongoing investigation

Qantas said the latest cracks were not found in its fleet of 12 A380s.

Airbus has dismissed calls to ground its superjumbo fleet over the cracks, which first came to light during repairs of a Qantas A380 damaged by an engine blowout shortly after taking off from Singapore in November 2010.

"It is embarrassing, but we will do everything to ensure safety is not compromised," Chief Executive Tom Enders said.

"We have a pretty good understanding, but the investigation is ongoing. What we have developed already is a repair solution and this is what we will apply on the various aircraft if and where it is necessary," he told CNN television.

An Airbus spokesperson declined to name the operator of the aircraft in which the latest cracks were found.

Two industry sources, asking not to be identified, said the latest discovery involved aircraft operated by Dubai's Emirates. The airline did not comment on the Airbus disclosure.

Precautionary inspections

Earlier this month, Singapore Airlines Ltd and Australia's Qantas said they found some cracks in A380 wings.

On Friday, Qantas said it was developing an inspection programme in consultation with Airbus, and Singapore Airlines said it was starting inspections on one aircraft. It was unclear how many of its 15 A380 in operation would undergo checks.

"We are liaising closely with Airbus and will be carrying out precautionary inspections as required," Singapore Airlines said in an e-mailed statement.

Korean Air Line Co said its five superjumbos did not have any cracks, but it would carry out close - up examination s earlier than Airbus had recommended.

China Southern Airlines Co Ltd said its two A380s would be flying the Beijing-Guangzhou route during the Chinese New Y ear holidays next week, a peak travel period.

Other operators of A380s include Air France and Germany's Lufthansa AG.

Long-term fix

Two aviation industry officials said European safety inspectors would order additional safety inspections.

A spokesperson for the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) confirmed it would issue an airworthiness directive on Friday.

Its US counterpart, the Federal Aviation Administration, said in a statement that its engineers are working with European authorities on a long-term fix for the cracking problem.

No US airlines operate A380s but they do fly to some US airports, including in Los Angeles, New York and Washington.

An Emirates spokesperson said the airline was awaiting an update from EASA regarding the cracks found several weeks ago.

"We continue to closely monitor our A380 fleet," the spokesperson said. "The aircraft remain fully airworthy and pose no risk to flight safety as affirmed by EASA and the aircraft manufacturer, Airbus. The safety of our passengers and crew is our highest priority."

Manufacturing error

The latest problems were discovered in the same type of part as the earlier set of cracks - an L-shaped bracket that connects the wing's exterior to the internal "rib" structure.

However, the appearance and location of the latest set of cracks were different. Two out of nine aircraft tested were found to have the newer cracks in the centre part of the wing.

Officials said the cracks most likely stemmed from a manufacturing process that put too much stress on the brackets, known as rib feet. The parts themselves were not flawed, according to specialist journal Air Transport Intelligence.

Aviation experts say the presence of tiny cracks is more risky near the root of the wing where loads are at their peak and least risky at the tip where the wing does least work.

Designers say modern aircraft allow loads to be carried by a different part of the structure when one part fails and most cracking is usually captured early without generating publicity.

"I don't think people necessarily need to be worried about cracks because they are caught in advance and repaired," said Snorri Gudmondsson, assistant professor of aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Development problems

"If the rib feet failed, the load would be transferred to other structural parts. These would eventually develop cracks themselves and increase the chances they would be discovered."

Despite being billed as Europe's "21st century flagship", the iconic A380 has already had a bumpy ride due to development problems and the Qantas blowout, and Toulouse-based Airbus is anxious to prevent any further damage to its image.

The A380 - developed at an estimated cost of €12bn in Britain, France, Germany and Spain and sold at a catalogue price of $390m - has room on its wings to park 70 cars and a wingspan of 79.8m.

Airbus, the aircraftmaking subsidiary of EADS, has so far delivered 68 superjumbos, starting with Singapore Airlines which took the first aircraft in December 2007. It was followed by Emirates and Qantas.

South Korea's Asiana Airlines Inc, which plans to induct six A380s between 2014 and 2017, said it was not changing that schedule as yet, but there was a possibility to reconsider if "profound cases" were found for the cracks.

  • Trevor - 2012-01-20 08:55

    Well,I would not fly in a plane if it's known to have a defect like cracking of the supports in the wings which are made of CF...sorry, at 35 000ft at 900km/h at -40deg,that minor crack decides to become a major crack and Airbus is more worried about their image cause this can kill the company over night, happend many times before..

      Squeegee - 2012-01-20 09:41

      Airbus is not all its cracked up to be.

      harley1 - 2012-01-20 09:46

      oh so i take it you are a aviation specialist or a pilot or rocket scientist? if it was so severe the boys who know about this would have grounded the entire fleet !! rather keep your comments to yourself and leave the problem to airbus instead of scaring the people who dont know about aviation !!

      jowza1 - 2012-01-20 10:24

      thats why i only fly soul crack only zol

      Kieron - 2012-01-20 10:31

      if the brackets are non critical brackets, then why do they have enough stress on them to cause cracks?? just saying.

      gbbfg - 2012-01-20 10:45

      I thought the same thing Kieron mentioned.

      Gerhard - 2012-01-20 10:49

      So Airbus is telling us that everything is fine, nothing to worry about. Then a disaster happens and they say it was because of hairline cracks, which they had warned the airlines about. The recommended fix was a bit of superglue or duct tape with some prestik over the cracks but the airlines technicians did not correct the cracks as Airbus had recommended. The Airbus A380 is perfectly safe.

      Anthony - 2012-01-20 11:55

      @harley will you fly in it. I will not. its called metal fatigue "substandard material" was used.

      George - 2012-01-20 14:25

      non critical, Then why put them there in the first place.

      binarycape - 2012-01-20 16:58

      I have to agree with you Trevor. I have watched doccies of air disasters where some internal intrinsic part developed a problem and in breaking or getting worse during a flight creates a full blown disaster where the plane came apart in the air and/or crashed. It always seems to be something small that escalates, and this would strike me as such. When you think about the stress on a plane on take off, landing and during storms and turbulence, even icing etc., the changes in temp, it strikes me one would want a plane to be free of any cracks ANYWHERE.

  • Zion - 2012-01-20 09:28

    The attitude of Airbus is mind boggling. They now know the plane has a fault which has been found on other similar planes yet they let it ride. Surely the international air safety bodies can force Airbus to ground the fleet and remain so until the defects are fixed.

  • Charles - 2012-01-20 09:32

    Mountain over a mole heap

      Charles - 2012-01-20 09:42

      Only until there is a disaster.

      gbbfg - 2012-01-20 11:37

      Not really.

  • Mouldy - 2012-01-20 09:45

    Please man, huff and puff over a 1cm hairline crack in a rib to skin bracket? It's not even a structurally critical part. I smell a smear campaign. Those flying buckets of bolts being operated by our cheap local airlines are in way worse shape. Some of those kites are 30 years old and are being held together by willpower and good luck alone.

      gbbfg - 2012-01-20 11:42

      Wow Mouldy. First of all, cracks of this type in such new aircraft are definitely not the norm. Far from it. Secondly, those 30 year old "kites" as you call them are most certainly not held together by anything less than the structures holding them together the day they left the factory. I fly 40+ year old aeroplanes that are as safe as their brand new brothers. For someone who knows so little about aircraft you sure make some confident statements.

      Hallo - 2012-01-20 12:00

      You and the sheep who thumbed up have no clue.. shame.

      Gerhard - 2012-01-20 12:18

      And with the space shuttle it was only an o-ring. We all know how that one turned out.

  • jaz82 - 2012-01-20 09:45

    Why cant they give these cracked wing jets to Zuma and his people.

      Nathi - 2012-01-20 12:41

      Racist what is it that has to do with Zuma here.

      Anthony - 2012-01-20 14:29

      no, good pilots

      Anthony - 2012-01-20 14:30

      no,good ground crew

      Anthony - 2012-01-20 14:31

      f$%k no, good government.

  • Treyzo - 2012-01-20 09:55

    Airbus is manufactured in France,right? check air france's crash record and that will say it all

      Thando - 2012-01-20 10:12

      Just like their cars - crap

      karen.glautier - 2012-01-20 10:15

      Wasn't the concorde also french?

      Jean-Pierre - 2012-01-20 10:39

      Actually airbus is an EU joint project and is manufactured all over Europe, the wings are made in Wales. They even had to build a special canal system to get the airbus A380 wings to the assembly in France.

  • George - 2012-01-20 10:02

    I have never like flying in an Airbus, the panels creak as the fuselage flexes and you just know the aircraft is not constructed to the Boeing standards. Give me a solid Boeing any day.

      Sook - 2012-01-20 15:12

      I agree with George. I fly often and most Airbus models make really weird creaking sounds. Boeing's 777 has none of this.

      Marlene - 2012-01-21 00:56

      @George ... We are talking here spesifically of the Airbus A380 !! We have flown a few times in an Airbus. Small, no room to stand up, seats too cramped - i can go on endlessly. But i never felt unsafe. It also is a small "'plane" - the A380 is gigantic ! - ever seen one ? And yes, give me the good old Boeing .. will agree on that one. No i am not a aircraft engineer so please, no thumbs down, not neccessary .. am only chatting.

  • Thando - 2012-01-20 10:12

    @Squeegee - thats brilliant. Looks like french planes are like french cars

      allison.steedman - 2012-01-20 12:19

      bad cars appear in every make - how many french cars have you owned? how about the millions of people who have no problem with them whatsoever? I am on my third 2nd Renault for which I recently traded in my Peugeot - nothing against Peugeot - I have had no issues with service or performance. Renault's are the most economical cars I have ever driven - and in my 35 years of driving I have owned BMWs, Volkswagens, Mini cooper, Nissan, Toyota, Opel, Ford. I will stick to Renault to the day I die.

      Squeegee - 2012-01-20 16:29

      DumberthanThando, you definitely have the wrong name!

  • les.cunningham1 - 2012-01-20 10:20

    Thanks for the laugh Juan. Good one!!

  • Peter - 2012-01-20 10:24

    Rib feet allows the wing skin to be attached to the structure. If one ribfoot fails, the load is redistributed to other rib feet, thus carrying more load. More load = more stress, higher chance of failure. Rib feet are designed to be overloaded. But, if a manufacturing error is to blame, it might be present at other rib feet too and the combination of bracket cracks, possible overload and manufacturing defects just isn't something you shove aside, especially on the wing. Dead passengers is far more concerning than a dead image...

  • Eric - 2012-01-20 10:25

    There are hairline cracks on almost any aircraft in service. These cracks are completely normal and engineers monitor them on a regular basis for propogation. Don't let ignorant journalists scare you.

      Stormsaam - 2012-01-20 10:33

      You're a pilot Eric?

      Mouldy - 2012-01-20 10:54

      @stromsaam, why should he be a pilot to know this?

      Eric - 2012-01-20 11:00


      michael.bernhardt - 2012-01-20 11:25

      Nicely said Eric!

      Gerhard - 2012-01-20 11:30

      I have flown on a UAE A380 from Dubai to Bangkok and back. I can assure you that is the best plane I ever was on.

      Jerhone - 2012-01-20 11:31

      no Eric owns an airline

      Truth24 - 2012-01-20 11:33

      *g* thanks. I didn't need to know that.

      Dmitri - 2012-01-20 11:42

      True. I have been on birds from the FSU (Former soviet Union) where there are so many INOP stickers I just shake my head. Downstairs in the hold, there are no locks and stops to secure the containers. I can go on and on, but those who are in the aviation profession will know what I am talking about. Nicely said Eric.

      gbbfg - 2012-01-20 12:03

      Gerhard: The problem with the public is that they think the best plane they've ever been on is the one that makes the least noise and the softest landing, neither of which have anything whatsoever to do with how "good" or "safe" an aircraft is from an engineering point of view. I agree with Eric the engineer, although these airframes are really very new. The A380 did fail it's original wing strength test, and had to go back to the drawing board before passing, but this is not very unusual. The margins of safety in aviation are substantial. It's not something the travelling public should worry about, these cracks. If an aeroplane is released to service then it's perfectly fit to fly. It's just that they'll have to monitor these cracks closely and if there's any doubt, the aircraft will be grounded or a fix will be implemented. Much more of a headache for the airline involved, but passengers shouldn't worry. All aircraft have some teething troubles when they arrive on the market. It's just that now word travels so fast, everyone knows about a problem immediately. I'll bet nobody outside the Boeing factory had any idea what kind of problems the 707 had on launch way back then. However, I do still much prefer Boeing's design philosophy and the results can be seen in extremely high-hour airframes still flying around today. But most of all I don't think I'll ever be able to accept the Airbus cockpit design philosophy. That worries me far more than some little cracks in the wings.

      Andries - 2012-01-20 15:17

      Eric you are right AND very wrong at the same time. Cracks - and they ALL start as hairline cracks - occur and propagate where any component is subjected to stresses for which that component was not designed. ANY wing component cracking must be repaired immediately as it may be a symptom of a bigger underlying problem or just a indication of its own poor design. We know the A380 had HUGE weight problems in its design and many many components were made from lighter guage material as had been specified by the design engineers. Far too many to be comfortable with. Until a thorough engineering study has defined the first cause that will identify the overstress which cracks this sub-sub load bearer, and then what caused the overstress in the sub load bearer - simply fixing the present symptom by holing or blending the crack stressor points will not make the aircaft safer. I am an aviation safety specialist and I do not fly A380 or 330 or 340-600.

      Pierre - 2012-01-21 01:36

      Gbbfg, you had a different opinion in your previous reply to Mouldy.

  • ludlowdj - 2012-01-20 10:29

    Well of coarse they going to downplay it, corporate culture dictates profit before safety every time. Its will not be an issue until the planes start dropping from the sky.

  • ludlowdj - 2012-01-20 10:31

    Whats HARLEY1 got to hide?

  • Quentin - 2012-01-20 11:21

    it's easy - let those who say this is not a problem do a 12-hour flight with their families on a plane that has these cracks..

      En - 2012-01-20 11:26

      Those precious families of yours have done plenty flights in planes with cracks, why would it be different this time?Only difference is that they didn't know about it.

  • Zion - 2012-01-20 11:45

    Did you know: The abnormal break-up of the Titanic was questioned for decades. Large ships of this type had flexible joints which allowed the ship to flex in the water and thus prevent high stresses on the hull. Examinations and calculations in latter years were made on the Titanic from underwater photographs and original building plans. It was found that the flexible joints were not according to specs. This abnormality was made known to the owners and builders but nothing was done about it. Remember this was the Titannic's Maiden voyage and hence no history of a problem. Will this be a case, too, of Airbus?

      Dewald - 2012-01-20 14:49

      Very interesting. That also dispells the old theory that the Titanic's steel went brittle at low temperature.

      Zion - 2012-01-20 17:24

      Dewald, I saw that too on wikipedia but it has never really held much credibility. what is amazing, however, is when the Titanic was built every avenue was sought to spend as less as possible. Did you know that the steel plating on the hull was maximum 38mm (1.5 inches and at other places it was only one inch (25mm thick.)An R1 rifle bullet will pass through that hull with ease. Cheap metal was used to manufacture rivets for the hull which fell out. General opinion is, had the Titanic been built with thicker steel plates and decent rivets it would not have sunk seeing that only 5 watertight compartments were flooded and that was a design spec. When dragging its self along the iceberg the plates crumbled and that may have been due to the inferior steel plates.

  • Pravashan - 2012-01-20 12:01

    you crack me up!

  • dmukaiwa - 2012-01-20 12:02

    never ride one of these

  • Paul - 2012-01-20 12:52

    @ Harley1 . Your comment is a joke . What are you in Grade 2 ? Cos i can only imagine someone that young being so naive !!!

  • Brent - 2012-01-20 13:17

    isnt this how the americans got rid of the concorde complaining incessantly about cracks? i would still choose an airbus over a boeing plan. simply take a look at the quality of various items produced in europe compared to that of the usa.

      Zion - 2012-01-20 14:53

      Brent, just a word in you ear. Americans did not like the concorde because it was noisy and subsequently banned. The ban was lifted when it was proven that a Boeing was noisier. The Concord was the most advance aircraft technologically for its time. Developed in the 1960's and first scheduled flight in 1976. Safest plane on the planet with only one crash due to an exploding tyre. Fastest passenger plane on the planet and tested up to 2.02 Mach. Retired in 2003 due to exceeding shelf life and flying for 27 years. Only 29 built. (Wiki) Just the thing for Zoooooma

  • SirFGrumpy - 2012-01-20 13:36

    Obviously the cracks developed because they parked 70 cars on the wings! Scary thought that these wings might just fold and the plane will plummet to the earth. But the upside is planes only crash once!

      winston.mullany - 2012-01-20 14:20

      And if its a fight between gravity and staying in the air, gravity always wins!

  • barry.nel - 2012-01-20 14:30

    I don't know much about aircraft wing assembly's, but a small crack getting larger at 35,000 feet, tends to make me want to bend down and kiss my ass goodbye....!!!!!!

  • George - 2012-01-20 14:33

    The response from Airbus is a real cracker

  • George - 2012-01-20 14:39

    So Airbus you will flying on a wing and a prey and if that dont work you just gona wing it Right

  • Jacques - 2012-01-20 16:35

    Put it this way, I wouldn't put my family on an A380 at the moment ," he said.Stephen Purvinas, Federal Secretary of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association . Enough said!!!

  • The-Azanian - 2012-01-21 13:06

    i guess boeing is smiling around the corner with the disputed 787.

  • Martin - 2012-01-23 02:11

    As a pilot and student of aircraft accident and investigation generally (I say generally) joe public get in a square tunnel. Walk along it and then enter a door into a round tube with seats. Fly from A to B. Exit the round tube and go back along the square tunnel. Most ignore the safety brief. As for the rest of us we are interested in the aircraft we fly in and publisised information about "issues" they have. With a journalists job being selling information and if possible sensationlise it for maximum revenue it often muddies the water for joe public to make an informative decision on what they want to fly in. So taking away paitriotism for you country what do you do? Without knowing the intricacies of construction of an A380 the only option for Joe public is if YOU are personally concerned ask before booking if they know what aircraft you will be flying in. Personally I would not fly in an A380, however my decision was made long before any cracks appeared in a high stress area. I saw a video of the making and construction of the A380 and the wing construction itself did not impress me. When my late father in law, an avionics and airframe engineer, saw it he was less than impressed. It is not the only aircraft that has or had issues with hundreds of aircraft manufacturers around the world and plenty (unfortunately) of design and manufacturing defects leading to accidents. I do agree with Trevor on the issue of wing root support cracks.

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