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

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 ) <{richardprice} {at} {gmail.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 SerpentMage ( 13390 ) <ChristianHGrossNO@SPAMyahoo.ca> on Sunday January 08, 2012 @07:30PM (#38632860)

      Shhh.... Boeing does not do this....

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

      "The aviation giant Boeing admitted today that it was aware of weaknesses in its 737 jets, but it never expected a 15-year-old Southwest Airlines jet to crack open in mid-flight. "

      So why is this an issue with Airbus? One you said union, but I wonder if there is not some Boeing prodding going on here!!!

      • by unrtst ( 777550 )

        At 00:25 - 00:26, for some strange reason, the news lady says "It's an Airbus jet" very quickly. I don't think the word "Boeing" is even mentioned in the video, yet it is regarding a Boeing 737. Simple slip up? Seems very odd to me.

        • I was really confused too. I think what's happening is that ABC is actually playing the video for a completely different story -- one about a United Airbus jet going down because the cockpit instrumentation failed -- on top of its text story about the Southwest cracks.

          I don't know why that's happening, but it sure as heck was confusing.

      • 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 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 kurthr ( 30155 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @03:48AM (#38635430)

          You are correct in the case of airplanes and other macro structures...

          But, interestingly the little mirrors in your TI based DMD/DLP movie projector use aluminum hinges.
          They bend ~1% strain @540Hz for ~20khr before failing and that's >10^10 cycles!

          Why? because the hinges are thinner than a grain size and so dislocations don't propagate.
          Cool :)

        • "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.

          Your post comes across as if there is something inherently wrong with using aluminum. Just because aluminum doesn't have a fatigue limit doesn't imply there is a design problem. The fatigue properties are just one of many design aspects that have to be balanced, and there are number of ways to mitigate fatigue risks. Also, the fatigue curve on wiki is generic and not not necessarily representative of a aircraft grade Aluminum Alloy such as 7075. Many high performance aluminum alloys have a sharp knee b

    • Don't take it for granted that the EASA will do the right thing. The FCC didn't in response to the Windsor incident [wikipedia.org], thus failing to prevent the, at the time, worst ever airliner crash. [wikipedia.org]

      Having said that, I'm not going to get worried about this until I see a number of independent aviation engineers getting worried. Your comment on the consensus of aviation industry forums is reassuring.

  • just duct tape it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot@NOsPam.hackish.org> on Sunday January 08, 2012 @07:23PM (#38632786)

    Fun fact: that is actually legal in some cases [wikipedia.org]...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 08, 2012 @07:23PM (#38632796)

    I can say that composites are fucking weird... the cracks may have been accounted for in the design... kinda crappy but sometimes you are designed into a corner.

    I don't have a picture of the cracks so i can't really make a good determination but if its composite and on the surface its pretty much harmless and if nessesary can be fixed with local resin cure.

    The ones you got to worry about...


  • Harmless (Score:5, Funny)

    by ildon ( 413912 ) on Sunday January 08, 2012 @07:26PM (#38632818)

    Recently downgraded to: "Mostly harmless."

  • by unity100 ( 970058 ) on Sunday January 08, 2012 @08:02PM (#38633088) Homepage Journal
    They are outcompeting them. And, boeing australia is boeing's largest outfit outside continental usa.

    https://www.google.com/search?q=boeing+australia&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a [google.com]

    and now, not any country in eu or eu commissions (that are MUCH more stringent than any kind of regulatory body in usa or any place else) have not found any problems with boeings, but, very Inconspicuously, australians did. the fact that boeing's largest outfit outside u.s. is residing in australia, is just a coincidence, i assure you .........
  • Industrial Action (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ausrob ( 864993 ) on Sunday January 08, 2012 @08:10PM (#38633156)
    I'd wager this has a whole lot more to do with last year's grounding of the entire fleet (due to negotiations failing with unions) and the ongoing labour dispute than anything technical. As others have already mentioned, the A380 has been widely discussed in aviation-specific forums, it's likely this is a move to highlight the ongoing issues within Qantas
  • by Goonie ( 8651 ) <<robert.merkel> <at> <benambra.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 zardie ( 111478 ) on Sunday January 08, 2012 @08:32PM (#38633320) Homepage

    This proves that the Airbus A380 is 100% unsafe to fly and will result in death if you board one.

    Please tell all your friends - I'm hoping that I get some cheaper A380 seats when I travel later this year if we can lower demand.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Sunday January 08, 2012 @08:54PM (#38633424)
    "some" say that it is unsafe to leave your house.

    At some point we have to realize that the Internet (rightly and wrongly) gives any voice a megaphone.

    So you have to decide what you want to listen to and what you want to believe.

    I understand that takes more than a few neurons to rub together, but you can do it. I know you can.

    Think for yourself. It's fun.

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Sunday January 08, 2012 @09:10PM (#38633522) Journal

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

    A tin can with wings weighing nearly a million pounds fully loaded, sent 45,000 feet into the air . Of course it "may be unsafe".

    (Actually, I'm pretty sure the maximum loaded weight is about 900,000 pounds, not a million, but for dramatic effect, I rounded up.)

  • by Kensai7 ( 1005287 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @01:43AM (#38635012)

    "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."

    1) minor and noncritical
    2) on a limited number
    3) traced the origin
    4) have already found the solution
    5) have already put it in the inspection list

    OK, now you can ground the whole fleet...

  • by StripedCow ( 776465 ) on Monday January 09, 2012 @04:54AM (#38635662)

    We can still use them for transporting proponents of the patent system.

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