says it is facing massive costs and huge operational disruptions as it resolves problems with wing rib feet cracking on its fleet, and is preparing for negotiations with the European airframer about compensation.
Airline President Tim Clark, talking to Aviation Week on the sidelines of theannual general assembly in Beijing, says Airbus Chief Operating Officer-Customers “John Leahy has said there is no compensation, but we take a different view,” adding, “They [Airbus] have a legal obligation to fix the aircraft at their expense.”
However, he concedes that the purchase contracts do not include clauses for this scenario, noting, “In all fairness, nobody would ever have contemplated anything like this.”
The financial impact on the airline is significant and continues to grow, with Clark estimating that the A380 wing problems have a $30 million monthly impact on the carrier’s bottom line.
Emirates external auditors claim the actual effect is closer to $50 million per month.
Emirates is the largest A380 operator with 21 aircraft in service. It will take delivery of another 23 by early 2014, but these aircraft still have the old wing design.
Airbus has developed a short-term repair program for the in-service fleet, and has designed a longer-term fix for the first 120 aircraft to be delivered by early 2014 that will include modified wing rib feet, among other modifications, to avoid the Type 1 and Type 2 cracks of the original wing design.
The retrofit replaces all of the 23 hybrid ribs, which are made of a mix of 7449 aluminum and a composite material, with all-metallic ribs made of 7010 alloy. The rib feet also will be redesigned to strengthen them, and an inspection manhole in the area where the cracking occurs will be reinforced.
Clark says Emirates discovered 700 Type 1 cracks in the two wings of one aircraft. The more serious Type 2 cracks are much less common.
The airline has had six A380s on the ground at a time, almost one-third of the fleet, since the problems emerged to make checks and preliminary repairs. The last two aircraft were grounded for repairs this week and are not due to return to revenue service until the end of July.
Clark says that while Airbus claims the quick repairs could be done within 10 days, Emirates’ experience is different: its aircraft have been grounded for an average 35 days, and some of them required 42 days.
Moreover, some of the aircraft that have been repaired likely will have to undergo the process again after completing 500 additional cycles. “We know there will be new [Type 1] cracks after 500 cycles because we have seen them well before 500 [cycles] on our aircraft,” Clark says. Operationally that means the airline will have to take aircraft out of service again after a period of only a few months.
Airbus and Emirates have meanwhile mapped out a plan for the permanent retrofit that will return its A380s to the original life cycle expectation. The program will start in the third week of January 2013 and end in November 2014.
The carrier will have four A380s taken out of service at any given time.