(Updates with number of planes to be inspected starting in first paragraph, criteria for checks from second.)
Jan. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Airlines operating Airbus SAS’s A380 superjumbo must ground 20 planes or almost one-third of the world fleet within the next six weeks to check for wing cracks.
Carriers with A380s that have accumulated more than 1,300 takeoffs and landings must make the inspections, and any planes that have made more than 1,800 trips need to be checked within four days, the European Aviation Safety Agency said today.
Air France, Emirates and Singapore Airlines Ltd. will need to take action soonest, based on flight figures, with the work likely to take up to 24 hours, according to the Asian carrier, which said six of its jets require scrutiny in the near term. EASA ordered the checks after the discovery of cracks in one wing led to detection of more serious fractures in other planes.
“This condition, if not detected and corrected, could potentially affect the structural integrity of the aeroplane,” the safety organization said today’s airworthiness directive. “The new form of cracking is more significant.”
The visual examinations don’t require special gear and should be completed in a matter of hours, according to Airbus.
Singapore Air spokesman Nicholas Ionides said planes could be still be out for a service for as much as a day, though there shouldn’t be any impact on operations. Out of its fleet of 15 A380s, another four will need checks within the six week period.
EASA issued its notice after Singapore Air and Qantas Airways Ltd. found the additional cracks in A380 wing-rib feet. The fissures, while “embarrassing,” pose no danger to passengers flying on the 68 A380s currently in service, Airbus Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders said late yesterday.
“The cracks seem to be reasonably normal for the course of business, but the A380 is a bit like Concorde,” said Nick Cunningham, an analyst at Agency Partners in London, referring to the former supersonic jetliner. “It’s distinctive, it’s an icon, and so anything that happens to it is big news.”
Airbus parent European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co. fell as much as 1.3 percent and was trading 0.7 percent lower at 25.35 euros as of 2:36 p.m. in Paris.
Airbus had advised on Jan. 5 that the cracks associated with ribs that help support aircraft wings, linked to a manufacturing issue, could be fixed during scheduled four-year maintenance and didn’t need immediate checks.
Additional fissures were found on a limited number of non- critical brackets, Airbus spokesman Justin Dubon said yesterday.
“I can’t say I’m proud of it,” Enders said in an interview with CNN that aired late yesterday. “We’re obviously investigating how it happened. We think we have a good understanding but the investigation is ongoing.”
Qantas will fully comply with the directive, Thomas Woodward, a spokesman, said by e-mail. The Sydney-based carrier hasn’t yet begun checks on its 11 in-service planes, he said.
Dubai-based Emirates, the biggest A380 operator, has been told by Airbus that the cracks aren’t “a major issue of any sort,” said Nigel Page, its director of commercial operations for the Americas region. In an interview from Seattle, he said he wasn’t aware whether the airline had found any cracks but that it was closely monitoring the fleet.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said in an e- mailed statement that its engineers are working with EASA on the issue. No North American carriers operate the jet.
Airbus has developed a “repair solution” that can be applied if necessary, according to Enders. The planemaker is also applying a fix on aircraft being built, he said, adding that the issue won’t affect other aircraft types.
Engineers first discovered the wing-rib feet cracks in a Qantas A380 under repair after a mid-air engine explosion in November 2010. It was thought that the cracks were related to the accident, until more were discovered in other A380s.
Korean Air Lines Co. hasn’t found any cracks in its five superjumbos, it said in an e-mail. China Southern Airlines Co. is operating A380 flights as normal, said You Yingping, a spokesman. He wasn’t able to immediately comment on checks.
Deutsche Lufthansa AG’s fleet of eight A380s is as yet unaffected by the cracks, Patrick Meschenmoser, a Frankfurt- based spokesman, said by telephone.
Air France-KLM Group, whose Air France unit operates four A380s, has been informed about the possibility of cracks and will take necessary steps, spokeswoman Brigitte Barrand said, without indicating whether any cracks had been discovered.
--With assistance from and David Fickling in Sydney, Alex Webb in Frankfurt, Susanna Ray in Seattle and Alan Levin in Washington. Editors: Chris Jasper, Andrew Noel.
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