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Full fleet inspected for wing cracks

February 16, 2012, 10:42 am

All airlines flying Airbus SAS A380 planes were ordered to land the aircrafts and inspect their entire fleet, according to Europe's air safety regulator. The European Aviation Safety Agency escalated the regulatory checks after the planes' wings started to develop cracks.

Airbus said the cracks on the wings are the result of an assembly line error, and it knows how to fix the problem. However, to maintain a good reputation as an aircraft maker, the company is requesting all A380s receive an inspection to ensure the safety of passengers. Of the jets that have been found with cracks on the wings, Airbus has repaired most and put them back into operation, Bloomberg reported.

The cracked wings have been linked to an incident in November 2010 when a Qantas A380's engine exploded during a flight and sent shrapnel through the wing. When the plane was inspected, the cracks were discovered on the wings, prompting Airbus to have other aircrafts inspected for the defect, the source reported.

In an interview with Dow Jones Newswire, spokesman for the EASA Dominique Fouda said the escalated inspection directive will require A380 operators to check for cracks using non-destructive techniques with special equipment with high-frequency electrical currents to detect cracks. Prior to the new directive, all inspections were simply visual.

The rib-skin attachment brackets are not part of the main-loading bearing structure of the plane, but are causing the cracks to occur. If the defective brackets are not repaired, the structural integrity of the plane could be damaged. Once the cracks are identified and corrected, however, the plane's operational life will be unaffected, Fouda told the source.

Qantas Airlines discovered a crack on the wing of one of its A380s last week, but said it does not pose a threat to safety. The jet was removed from service for repairs and will be put back into service upon completion within a week. Upon inspection, Qantas found the minor cracking on the wing's rib feet to not be related to turbulence, but a manufacturing error, the source reported.

The Airbus A380 is used by several airlines all over the world but remains a rare aircraft at international airports. The twin-deck aircraft offers closed-off, first-class suites for passengers, shower cabins and duty-free shops. There is also a more popular three-class layout of the A380, which can fit more than 800 passengers in an all-economy setup, Bloomberg reported.

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