Airbus Say Wing Cracks Were Down to Wrong Material Choices

The cracked wings of the A380 double-decker airliner is a combination of new technologies mixed with insufficient design controls that are now causing spiraling repair costs, Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders said.

Enders said of the period 10 years ago when aircraft designers sought to make A380 wings lighter by mixing carbon fibre and metal.

This is something that wasn’t on our radar screen, we thought we understood the properties of the materials and the interface between carbon fibre and metal and found out the wrong way we didn’t know everything.

The cracked wings have forced Airbus to take a repair bill for more than a quarter of a billion euros and the company said this month that fixing the A380’s problems will occupy Airbus for years to come. The company is also reviewing its delivery schedule for this year, and said that handing over 30 of the world’s largest passenger jet this year will be a challenge.

European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co., the parent company of Airbus, said last week that charges in 2012 alone for a permanent fix would total 260 million euros, and that Airbus will take further charges in future years as it assumes the costs of repairing the A380 wing sets.

Airbus has traced back the cause of the cracks to the choice of a less flexible aluminium alloy used to make the wing brackets, as well as the way in which fasteners are put through holes, and the stresses involved in fitting portions of the wing together.

A short-term fix that takes around five days has been applied to about a third of the 74 A380s currently in the field today. That solution will be applied to other operating A380s as the number of landings and takeoffs reaches a threshold mandated by regulators that requires the fix.

Airbus has worked out a re-design of the wing that would eliminate future cracks and the company is working with the European Aviation Safety Agency to gain approval.

Tom Williams, the head of programs at Airbus said

The new design wouldn’t work its way into wing structures being built in Broughton, Wales, until mid 2013, meaning the first A380s to come off the final assembly line in Toulouse with the improved wing would be early 2014. Until a permanent re-design is incorporated into future planes, those A380s flying today and entering service before 2014 will need fixes made to wings that are far more complex and time-consuming than the rapid change

When asked about the A380’s future Tom Enders said;

I’m quite sure the A380 will survive this, as other aircraft programs have in the past, but it costs the company dearly in money, and I’m afraid also in reputation

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source: bloomberg