Cracks in the wings of the new Airbus A380 super jumbo have been found several times. The aviation firm’s own engineers found some. Others have apparently been discovered by airlines. Sixty-eight of the planes are in service now and another 253 have been ordered. The news raises concerns about the safety of the airplanes, and the limits of the engineering used to build them.
Boeing (NYSE: BA) says there are six million parts in its largest plane, the 747-400. Half of these are fasteners. The aircraft has 171 miles of wiring. It is a wonder the plane flies safely at all.
Problems with large airplane engineering can be divided into two categories. There are those that probably pose very little threat to the ability of the plane to fly, and those that could cause a catastrophe that pilots or mechanics cannot overcome. The wing cracks in the A380 almost certainly fall into the first group, but no one knows that for certain.
Products like the A380 take years to develop. Something as obvious as wing cracks should not happen in new planes. Much older models have been known to develop mechanical problems after a plane has been in service for 20 or 30 years. That may be unacceptable to fliers, airlines and regulators, but at least it is understandable.
The A380 is one of the most complex aircraft ever built. That is not an excuse for why one of the world’s most advanced manufacturing companies cannot get the design of the wings right.
Douglas A. McIntyre