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World's Largest Passenger Plane May Be Unsafe, Some Say 394

Posted by timothy
from the whereas-perfect-safety-is-wonderful dept.
CNET reports (citing this BBC video account) that some aircraft engineers in Australia are concerned about small cracks that have appeared on the wing ribs of some Airbus A380 airplanes, a report says. They're calling for the whole fleet to be grounded, but Airbus says the cracks are harmless.
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World's Largest Passenger Plane May Be Unsafe, Some Say

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  • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardpriceNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday January 08, 2012 @07:22PM (#38632780)

    Airbus have issued an inspection notice saying it's a materials issue, and that airlines should inspect at an aircrafts 4 year inspection interval. They would not do so, and would be overruled by the European safety body EASA, if they thought otherwise.

    This has been discussed to death on aviation industry forums, and the general consensus is it's a non-issue - the calls for grounding are being headed by an industry union, not a regulatory body.

    Every aircraft has cracks in it, even brand new ones - in this case, it's in a non-critical location and is non-load bearing. A check at the 4 year point is adequate for this type of discovery.

  • by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) on Sunday January 08, 2012 @07:22PM (#38632782) Homepage Journal
    Aircraft are over-engineered [wikipedia.org] by a factor of 120-300%.
  • by theshowmecanuck (703852) on Sunday January 08, 2012 @07:26PM (#38632810) Journal
    They just need to do a few Brazil to France test flights.
  • Re:Small cracks (Score:5, Informative)

    by couchslug (175151) on Sunday January 08, 2012 @07:38PM (#38632924)

    Depends entirely on what is cracking and how much. It is routine for damage found on aircraft inspection to be reported to the manufacturer for engineering guidance.

    Defect limits exist for many aircraft and engine components. For example, borescope (think "endoscope for machines") inspection of turbines is used to check allowable wear and damage. That can be considerable depending on the engine.

  • by couchslug (175151) on Sunday January 08, 2012 @07:41PM (#38632944)

    I'm an experienced aircraft mechanic and have no problem with it.

    "Such parts wouldn't be there in the first place, now would they?"

    "Fairing" comes to mind. which exists to cover structure and streamline flow.

    Even delicate fighters can have considerable defects and be safe to fly. One inspects, documents, and monitors those with inputs from engineers and tech reps.

  • by Joce640k (829181) on Sunday January 08, 2012 @07:58PM (#38633042) Homepage

    While we're at it, we should ground the entire Boeing fleet as well...one of their roofs ripped off a couple of days ago during a flight and cracks have been found all over the 737 fleet.

    http://abcnews.go.com/US/southwest-airlines-boeing-knew-737-flaw-expect-problem/story?id=13300089#.TwomuU8gifg [go.com]

    Best part: They knew it could happen but they kept it a secret.

  • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardpriceNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday January 08, 2012 @08:05PM (#38633120)

    It's not a composite material, it's a grade of aluminium used in a non-load bearing rib in the wing, used to maintain the wings aerodynamic shape. The cracks were found on one of the feet on the rib, which attach the rib to the wing skin. There are multiple other routes for the load, which is why this is considered non-load bearing and not an issue.

  • by GumphMaster (772693) on Sunday January 08, 2012 @08:06PM (#38633122)

    I wonder if there is not some Boeing prodding going on here!!!

    No, its a continuation of union action against Qantas that precipitated the airline voluntarily grounding its entire fleet in October in order to force arbitration in the disputes. The maintenance engineering union is ceasing on any little thing it can to show that maintenance by "other" parties is deficient. They use the same scare tactic equally against Boeing, Airbus and Bombardier (the Q fleet), its just the last few high profile incidents have been Airbus. They rely on ignorance, some of which is on display in this comment stream and Australian media, about what constitutes a threat to safety or a maintenance issue.

    Cracks in aircraft (Boeing, Airbus, Embraer or Tiger Moth) are inevitable and routine, as is the inspection for them. In this case there is repair activity that can take place when the aircraft is next in for major work. You could opt to do it earlier at the expense of unscheduled downtime for a "warm fuzzy" feeling, but bean counters are rarely warm and fuzzy.

  • by SomePgmr (2021234) on Sunday January 08, 2012 @08:18PM (#38633222) Homepage

    Yes, the economy is more important than not killing people. In fact, can I kill you and take your money? It's for the good of society. That money's gotta keep changing hands. I'll be by tonite.

    Ya'know, the article was really short:

    Airbus recommends that airlines check for cracks but says they present no real danger. The BBC quotes the following from a statement by the company:

    "We confirm that minor cracks were found on some noncritical wing rib-skin attachments on a limited number of A380 aircraft. We have traced the origin. Airbus has developed an inspection and repair procedure, which will be done during regular, routine scheduled four-year maintenance checks. In the meantime, Airbus emphasizes that the safe operation of the A380 fleet is not affected."

  • by Goonie (8651) <robert.merkel@benamb r a . org> on Sunday January 08, 2012 @08:20PM (#38633238) Homepage
    Some of the more alarmist comments about the A380 are coming from the aircraft engineers union IIRC.

    There's a context here - the A380 heavy maintenance is not done in Australia (and so not done by their members) and Qantas and the union are currently in a massive industrial bunfight.

    So any negative comments about A380 safety have to be taken in that context.

  • by hedwards (940851) on Sunday January 08, 2012 @08:21PM (#38633244)

    Why? They're on record as saying that it's not critical. By which they almost certainly mean that monitoring it is sufficient. What independent 3rd party experts are you going to tap? Most of them work for either the competition or one of the regulatory bodies that's supposed to be keeping tabs on them.

    Ultimately as others have pointed out, the amount of damage that this would do if one of those planes fell out of the sky because those cracks caused a wing to fall off would probably be the end of Airbus. Given that they're stress fractures on the wing it's quite likely that they were considered when designing the plane.

  • by Verunks (1000826) on Sunday January 08, 2012 @08:23PM (#38633258)
    just to clarify that happend almost a year ago not just a few days ago
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 08, 2012 @09:28PM (#38633652)

    Actually, it isn't that it lost a lot of fuel before takeoff (although it did leak a bit), it's the fact that it couldn't takeoff at all with a full fuel load. The engines and airframe were optimized for high-speed, high-altitude flight. Lift and thrust characteristics were terrible in the low-altitude subsonic speed regime.

  • by cyfer2000 (548592) on Sunday January 08, 2012 @09:33PM (#38633676) Journal
    dwarf? [wikimedia.org]
  • It's like Therac-25 (Score:5, Informative)

    by Unoriginal_Nickname (1248894) on Sunday January 08, 2012 @09:47PM (#38633754)

    A radiation therapy machine called Therac-25 had severe design flaws that caused it to kill several people. The AECL engineers and managers were overconfident and over-greedy, respectively, so even after a significant number of accidents they refused to admit that the machine was faulty.

    Chances are the problem is quite serious, but Airbus' actuaries tell them that the short-run cost of performing immediate repairs is greater than the long-run cost of their insurance rates after a mechanical failure.

  • by Kielistic (1273232) on Sunday January 08, 2012 @10:24PM (#38633902)
    Haha nice flamebait. Post as coward so you don't lose karma?

    Metal can fail too you know. Kind of like the metal on these airplanes. And I can guarantee more tires have fallen off cars in your hard-assed US of A than wings have fallen off Airbus A380s.

    I've never personally had it happen but I have heard of it (usually from older American built cars ;)) and it is nothing like getting a flat tire. Suggesting that it is tells me you aren't a good driver, if you've ever driven at all.
  • by Solandri (704621) on Sunday January 08, 2012 @10:55PM (#38634130)
    Aluminum does not have a fatigue limit [wikipedia.org]. That is, there is no way to design an aluminum structure so that it does not experience fatigue (growth of microscopic cracks). Any aluminum structure will eventually fail under cyclic loading like a fuselage experiences (pressurization / depressurization which each flight). That is why pressurized airframes must be retired after about 100,000-120,000 cycles (at which point they are chopped up to prevent an unscrupulous person selling it to an unsuspecting buyer).

    Since you cannot prevent the growth of cracks, the best you can do is predict when they will become a problem, and do regular maintenance checks to catch any which may have formed before. In the Southwest incident, it turned out the predicted time til a maintenance check was needed was too long. The crack formed and enlarged to failure sooner than expected. "Admitting" that you know of this "weakness" is simply acknowledging what every materials science student already knows - there is no way to prevent fatigue failure of aluminum. Doesn't matter if it's a Boeing plane or an Airbus plane - every aluminum plane has this weakness.
  • by jlehtira (655619) on Sunday January 08, 2012 @11:16PM (#38634274) Journal

    pilot error as in hiding a bug in airbus autopilot or it reading faulty gauges.

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/05/27/air-france-flight-447-crash-report-airbus-autopilot-to-blame.html [thedailybeast.com]

    What Really Happened Aboard Air France 447 [popularmechanics.com] tells the story as it stands after investigations. It's a rather chilling read. But it makes one thing clear: it was about human error. The plane was even fully operational when it crashed, as an anti-icing system had managed to bring air speed sensors back to operation before it.

    Two years after the Airbus 330 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean, Air France 447's flight-data recorders finally turned up. The revelations from the pilot transcript paint a surprising picture of chaos in the cockpit, and confusion between the pilots that led to the crash.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 08, 2012 @11:33PM (#38634350)

    The people who lie are usually the ones with the most to gain/lose. What do service engineers have to gain by grounding the fleet - not much. What would Airbus lose by having their brand new fleet grounded - a huge amount of public confidence.

    What do service engineers have to gain?

    Well, let's have a bit of context. These aren't just "service engineers", it's the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association, the trade union for aircraft engineers in Australia.

    The same trade union which wants an A380 maintenance hangar in Australia, written into the workplace agreement they were negotiating with Qantas.

    They've recently settled that agreement, without getting the hangar, (one source [smh.com.au]), so one presumes they're just keeping their name in the news.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 09, 2012 @01:08AM (#38634868)

    The crew is trained for IAS failure. They're supposed to use a chart to manually set throttle position and nose attitude. This crew, for some reason, failed to follow the procedures.

I've got a bad feeling about this.

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