The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is expanding its mandatory inspections of A380 wings to check for cracks in wing rib-feet to aircraft that have operated fewer cycles than it previously specified.

The move is largely an administrative step. Airbus previously said it expected to see cracking in the L-shaped component on all A380s built, effectively signaling that all of them would need to be checked and repaired.

The airworthiness directive (AD) had covered only 20 A380s, those with flight cycles over 1,300 cycles. The updated AD calls for aircraft with fewer than 1,216 flight cycles to undergo the inspection when they reach 1,300 flight cycles or before; for those between 1,216 and 1,384 flight cycles, the inspection must be completed within six weeks or 84 flight cycles, and those with 1,384 flight cycles or more within three weeks.

The new directive also mandates non-destructive testing (NDT) of the component. It is the first time EASA specifically calls for that technique. However, NDT already was being used because Airbus had told operators to use the process to assess damage.

The cracks in the rib-feet occur because of a problem in the manufacturing process that places an extra stress on the component during wing assembly. The manufacturing process is being changed to avoid inducing the strain on the component (the material used in the rib-feet also is being changed).

Another AD is due later this year when Airbus unveils the permanent fix for A380s already built. The current AD is considered an interim fix.

Because the inspections can be planned for, they are unlikely to cause major disruptions among A380 operators. Airlines have so far seen little operational impact from the need to inspect their A380s, although in some cases they have had to employ smaller aircraft, Boeing 777-300ERs for instance, on A380 routes.