More cracks emerge as Qantas inspects A380s

THE damage to the reputation of the world's largest passenger jet has continued to grow, after Qantas found the more serious ''type-two'' cracks in the wings of the two A380s it has inspected so far.

In the latest setback for Airbus's troubled superjumbo project, which was years late in delivering the double-decker planes to airlines, Qantas's discovery of the ''type-two'' cracks in the two A380s it has checked raises the likelihood of the other 10 aircraft in its flagship fleet suffering the same problem.

The detection of the wing cracks in the A380s, first reported by the Herald, is causing increased angst among airlines. Emirates has bemoaned the loss of tens of millions of dollars in revenue from having to take six of its 21 A380s out of service for inspections and repairs.

Qantas has already begun talks with Europe's biggest aircraft manufacturer in an effort to recoup the cost of repairs and inspections. "We are in discussions with Airbus about the cost implications of the inspection and repair requirements," a Qantas spokesman said yesterday.

Airbus has conceded that the repair bill for the wing cracks in the worldwide superjumbo fleet is likely to top €105 million ($133 million) but insists the planes remain safe to fly.

Qantas, which has the third-biggest fleet of superjumbos, initially thought the cracks in the wings of the first two A380s it had parked up for inspections were limited to the less severe ''type-one'' cracks. Those hairline cracks - none longer than about 2 centimetres - were found in the wing rib feet, which attach the skins of the wings to brackets.

But since European air-safety authorities ordered checks last month, Qantas engineers have discovered ''limited'' numbers - or fewer than 10 - of the more serious ''type-two'' cracks on both the Nancy-Bird Walton, which has been under repair in Singapore since suffering a mid-air engine explosion in November 2010, and another A380. The latter has been repaired and returned to service.

Under the airworthiness directive from the European Aviation Safety Agency issued last month, airlines have to check their A380s for the cracks when the aircraft reach 1300 flights.

It means Qantas will inspect another A380 for the type-two defects next month, while a further two are expected to be checked later this year.

''It is fairly evident that this is a global fleet issue and Airbus is paying particularly close attention to it,'' the Qantas spokesman said. "The cracking poses no risk to A380 safety and the EASA inspection process is the appropriate response.''

The type-two cracks have been found in the brackets that attach the plane's wing ribs - frames that extend along the width of the wing - to the wing's metal skin.

A manufacturing issue at Airbus's European factories has been blamed for the emergence of the cracks in the relatively new superjumbos, the first of which entered service in 2007.