Emirates’ Clark: A380 wing rib cracks cost nearly $100 million, ‘enormous’ operations problems

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Published: June 13, 2012

Emirates A380. By Rob Finlayson

Dubai-based Emirates Airline (EK) is experiencing “enormous” operations problems and has lost nearly $ 100 million from necessary modifications to repair wing rib cracks on its in-service Airbus A380s.

Speaking on the sidelines of the IATA annual meeting and summit in Beijing this week, EK president Tim Clark told ATW the situation has caused the airline “great difficulty” and has affected its expansion plans.

The cracks issue, discovered early this year, resulted from use of a material known as 7449 that was used in A380 wing rib feet construction ( ATW Daily News, May 25 ). The European Aviation Safety Agency issued an airworthiness directive, extended to all in-service A380s, ordering mandatory inspections of the wing ribs ( ATW Daily News, Feb. 9 ).

EK had to ground six A380s while the inspections/modifications were performed. “That means 30% of our A380 fleet stopped flying. Each one [was] flying 15 hours daily, [with a] 90% load factor,” he said, adding the aircraft were replaced with Boeing 777-300ERs.

“We have to handle it, because we have no choice,” said Clark. “It [the A380] is a hugely successful airplane for us.”

Clark said that in the last quarter of the financial year, “nearly $ 100 million was hit [to] our bottom line as a result [of] not having [these] six A380s in service.” Aircraft had been grounded for eight weeks “and we had thousands of crews sitting there doing nothing. Is there compensation possible? No one is paying anything at the moment,” Clark said, adding that “John Leahy [Airbus CCO customers] said there is no compensation. We have a different view.”

He said the aircraft took longer to repair than Airbus originally stated. “The problem was Airbus said it [could be] easily fixed in six to 10 days, then it took longer, on average it was 35 days,” Clark said, adding that it really took “30,000 manpower hours per aircraft, [and] you got to do 120 aircraft at $ 100/hr. [for] manpower.” Also, he said the stranded A380s took up a lot of hangar space in Dubai, impacting MRO work on EK’s remaining fleet.

Airbus will do the retrofits, which will be performed from early 2013 at four MRO facilities worldwide. “We start in the third week in March 2013 until Nov. 14,” Clark said. “There will be always be four A380s out at one time.”

The A380s delivered from early 2014 will have a new all-aluminum rib design.

However, Clark said, “All this wouldn’t stop our interest in getting more [A380] or -900 aircraft. They [Airbus] will fix it. I hope they learn from it.”

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