Superjumbo wing cracks 'caused by design fault'
AIRBUS has admitted that cracks discovered in the wings of the troubled A380 superjumbo were caused by a design fault at the company's factory in Filton.
Tom Williams, Airbus's most senior executive in the UK, publicly apologised yesterday for the embarrassing and costly problem, which has caused headlines across the world and is expected to cost Airbus at least £100 million to put right.
The cracks in the wings of the A380s – first discovered after the failure of a Qantas plane's engine – have been the only blemish on a great year for Airbus.
The firm, which employs 4,000 people in South Gloucestershire, cemented its place as the world number one planemaker thanks to the enormous popularity of its new fuel-efficient aircraft.
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The bulk of the design and research and development into the A380's wings was carried out in Filton. But the problem of the cracks – which has seen some flagship A380s grounded – has been a huge embarrassment for the company in an industry which prides itself on its safety standards.
The senior management at Airbus is in the process of changing hands, with Frenchman Fabrice Bregier taking over the chief executive role from the departing Tom Enders.
Airbus has been keen to steady the ship after a rocky recent history, which included massive overruns on key projects, soaring costs and even an investigation into accusations of insider dealing.
But its fortunes have turned around and last year saw Airbus enjoy a record 12 months in terms of orders. The rise in popularity of its aircraft saw the company overtake its great rival Boeing in the global pecking order.
But the problem with the A380's wings could threaten customer confidence and Mr Williams was put forward to explain what was being done about it. Mr Williams, who is in charge of production in the UK and an vice-president of the firm, said that a long-term solution to the problem had now been found.
He went on to admit that the whole affair had been had been a major embarrassment and that Airbus customers had been let down by the manufacturer.
Airbus has always maintained that the A380s were safe to fly but the aviation authorities issued a time limit on the how long the planes could stay in service before the wings were repaired.
The tiny cracks were discovered during extensive checks following the Qantas incident in November 2010 and were centred around brackets developed in Filton. The brackets were designed and built to connect the internal structure of the A380's wings with its outer skin.
Following the discovery of the problem the European Aviation Safety Agency ordered inspections to be carried out on the entire fleet of superjumbos currently in service.
Speaking at the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse about the issue yesterday, Mr Williams admitted mistakes had been made in the choice of material for the brackets and in the way they were designed.
He said: "I think we now have a long-term solution from a design point of view. We have now got to develop the design and put it in real components, build and test those because we do not just flick a switch and say 'okay let's turn everything over tonight'.
"We are now in a situation that by the end of the year we will have a good fix, but keeping in mind the lag it will be well into 2014 before you see aircraft going through the production system that are completely clean.
"There have been cancellations and delays. The A380 is successful and makes the airlines lots of money but when it is on the ground you have the reverse, so it gets to become expensive.
"It is embarrassing that we have let people down. Certainly, from the workers I have been talking to, they have the same sense. We were wrong and we have got to fix it quickly. We are trying to be open and transparent with customers about the issues."
The A380 is the largest passenger aircraft in the world and is capable of carrying 800 passengers. Around 70 are in service and a further 250 have been ordered.