Storage May Exacerbate Airbus A380 Wing-Spar Crack Issue

Emirates Airline
Credit: Emirates Airline

Airbus A380s that sit idle in severe environmental conditions may be susceptible to wing-spar cracking previously linked to the wing’s age, prompting the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to adopt broader inspection criteria recommended by the manufacturer.

A May 11 airworthiness directive (AD) requires A380 operators to calculate “factored time on ground” (FTOG) and conduct inspections based on Airbus’ revised criteria. The AD is based on a May 11 Airbus operators’ telex.

The AD builds on existing inspection criteria for the A380 wing box areas: the top and bottom flanges of the outer rear spar (ORS) between Ribs 33 and 49, the outer inner front spar (OIFS) between Ribs 8 and 14 and the outer front spar (OFS) between Ribs 38 and 49. The original AD was issued in 2019, covering only part of the affected area and setting inspection thresholds starting 15 years after the wing box assembly date. Feedback from operators and additional work by Airbus prompted subsequent ADs that expanded the areas that needed checks and shortened the inspection thresholds. The most recent AD, issued in 2022, mandated starting ORS inspections 11.5 years after the wing box assembly date.

The new criteria affect only the ORS area.

“Since that [2022] AD was issued, prompted by analysis of further inspection results, it was determined that the threshold for ORS inspection must depend on more criteria than only the wing age,” EASA said. “The severity of ORS findings showed a relationship with the amount of time an airplane spends on ground (e.g., parked, stored) in severe environmental conditions. This new criterion introduces the need to calculate FTOG as defined [in the Airbus telex].”

Among the new triggers for ORS inspections is an aircraft returning to service after 12 or more months in service. The most recent, previously mandated checks are still in place.

Wing inspections take about one week. The non-destructive checks are typically performed by airlines in-house.

Aviation Week Network’s Fleet Discovery shows 140 A380s in regular service. Another 75 are listed as parked or stored. Emirates Airline has 121 of them, including 88 in service.

Sean Broderick

Senior Air Transport & Safety Editor Sean Broderick covers aviation safety, MRO, and the airline business from Aviation Week Network's Washington, D.C. office.

Jens Flottau

Based in Frankfurt, Germany, Jens is executive editor and leads Aviation Week Network’s global team of journalists covering commercial aviation.