Thursday, January 19, 2012

How safe is the Airbus A380?

The A380 has been in service for only about 4 years and has already had engines exploding, and now cracks in the wings, something that is usually only found in older aircraft.

The first publicized problems came about when a Qantas A380 had an uncontained engine failure of one of the 4 Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines.  Rolls-Royce advised the operators of A380 aircraft who had this engine to change them every 90 cycles, something unprecedented and extremely costly in aviation. 

Recently it has come to light that airplanes less than 4 years old are already developing cracks on the wings.  Airbus assures us all that this is nothing to worry about. Phewww, I feel much better now, time to move on, nothing to see here. 

The Qantas incident was a much bigger deal than reported at the time, as extensive damage was done to the wing, and the plane could not land immediately as fuel needed to be burned off and dumped to safely land back in Singapore.  The flight crew did a good job containing the damage and getting the plane safely back on the ground.  Qantas and other carriers grounded the fleet for several months until a work around could be developed.  But they are back in the air, on very long routes where the nearest usable airport could easily be 3 or more hours away.

Not every airline purchased the Trent engines, and many others have the more reliable GE models, and they do not have the design flaws of the Trent.

While Airbus is downplaying the wing cracks, I consider this to be yet another serious design flaw on an airframe that has only been in service for 4 years. Hopefully the FAA and other foreign governmental aviation regulatory agencies will hold Airbus' feet to the fire and demand fixes.  There is a lot of pressure on these agencies to keep these planes in the air, for purely economical reasons.  But one has to ask oneself if they are feeling lucky when flying on a flight from LAX to Sydney or Singapore.

I do get stuck on Airbus planes quite often, especially the A320 family, but never feel too comfortable, understanding all the issues with their "fly-by-computer" flight and engine controls, but most of the bugs have been worked out of these planes.....after 20 years.

Here's a video of the Qantas plane that had the uncontained failure,

So you have to ask yourself, how lucky do I feel flying on a plane with known engine problems, that only have a very expensive work around, and wings that are cracking at a very young age.

Departing from the safety issue, do you really want to fly on a plane that holds close to 600 people, takes 2 hours to board and an hour to disembark?  And think of the customs lines when a couple of these monsters show up at the same time.  It's not my cup of scotch to be sure.

I'm planning to go to Australia later this year, but I'll book flights on another aircraft type, and preferably a Boeing aircraft.  

If it ain't Boeing, I ain't going.

UPDATE: Qantas has grounded the plane that Airbus told us not to worry about.  As a bonus, Airbus says that these cracks are nothing to worry about because they are manufacturing defects and not stress cracks.  I'm feeling so much better about this plane now.  Flying on this lemon is like playing Russian roulette.  It's an accident waiting to happen.

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