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Design flaws identified as cause of cracks in wings

January 30, 2012, 10:23 am

Airbus recently identified manufacturing and design flaws as the cause of several wing cracks found on the A380 aircrafts. After discovering the source, the plane manufacturing company developed a strategy on how best to repair the cracks on the superjumbo wings. In response to the errors, European safety authorities started to order inspections of manufacturing plants.

Airbus decided to go public with the more recent discovery of cracks on plane parts in an effort to keep communication open with the press and remain transparent. Analysts believe this tactic will allow the company to remedy the problem quickly and not suffer any long-term consequences, Reuters reported.

Tony Williams, executive vice president of programs at Airbus, is speaking out to clients and the public to reassure them of the safety of the A380. Williams is also flying to Dublin to attend an industry conference and address colleagues and experts on the guaranteed safety of Airbus products. Williams said engineers are working on finding what specific malfunction in the manufacturing or design of the wings is causing the cracks, and have ruled out metal fatigue as some of the planes were first introduced as recent as 2007, the source reported.

According to the source, Airbus has sold 253 A380s for $390 million each, and currently six of the planes are in service. The cracks on the wings have been blamed on three errors: designer's choice of aluminum alloy for some of the 4,000 brackets inside the wings, the type of bolt used to strain the metal and tiny gaps that were putting more stress on certain parts. To prevent further defective plane parts from being sold and used, European authorities have ordered inspections on a third of the superjumbo fleet, the source reported.

On the development of new Airbus planes, the company is using shimming to reduce the strain applied when the wing skins are attached to the ribs. This will reduce the loads on the wing rib-feet, putting less pressure and allowing the parts to last longer. Airbus is also changing the aluminum 7449 alloy to a stronger mixture, which will add extra weight to the aicraft, Aviation Week reported.

In an interview with CNN, Williams said the errors in the production of the A380s are not a flight safety issue, but rather a few glitches that are common when a new plane is being launched.

"We pushed the boundaries on this aircraft with the carbon fiber rib skin, an innovative design to increase fuel efficiency," Williams said. "These cracks are a result of a combination of factors during the design and manufacturing process."

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