Airbus and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have reached the final stage of consultation over a final fix for both retrofit and so-called forward fit of replacement wing rib feet for the A380 following discoveries of cracks in a relatively small number of the parts by several operators. If all goes as expected, the discussions with the EASA will end within days, according to head of A380 product marketing Richard Carcaillet, ahead of retrofit certification some time in the third or fourth quarter and deliveries of the first retrofit kits during next year’s first quarter. However, Airbus expects to deliver 119 A380s before it rolls out the first airplane built with new wing rib feet installed during the normal course of production and under a “slightly adapted” manufacturing process in the first quarter of 2014.
Airbus insists the cracking, which Carcaillet said developed on an average of between 12 and 14 rib feet out of some 2,000 in each wing, has not compromised safety and that each repair will take “a matter of days, not weeks” to complete. Carcaillet explained to AIN last week that the solution involves replacing the current wing rib feet—L-shaped brackets that attach the wing ribs to the skins made with the comparatively new, Alcan 7449 aluminum alloy—with rib feet made from slightly heavier, 7010 aluminum used in the A330. According to Carcaillet, the weight penalty will amount to a negligible 100 kilograms (220 pounds).
To certify the final fix, Airbus will need to validate the conformity of the repair on its A380 flight-test aircraft, a process that will involve what Carcaillet characterized as “a few flights.” Certification of the retrofit and forward fit would restore Airbus’s full service design goal of 19,000 flight cycles without a need for further inspection.
Carcaillet wouldn’t comment on how the redesign might affect the timing of deliveries to specific customers. “It’s a decision for [each] airline,” said Carcaillet. “Either they want to start flying the airplane as soon as possible…They take it and have to inspect it after a certain number of cycles and then keep on inspecting it until the repair [is performed]. Or, they ask Airbus to incorporate what we call an interim modification before delivery, which gives us a longer interval to re-inspect the aircraft.”
So far Airbus has registered charges against the program of €264 million ($332 million) to cover retrofits to the 30 airplanes it plans to deliver this year. Nevertheless, the company continues to cite a 2015 break-even estimate.