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Qantas Discovers More Wing Cracks in A380

The A380 had a tumultuous beginning, suffering significant delays before finally beginning passenger flights in 2007. Last month, technicians discovered numerous cracks in the wing ribs of an A380 that had been grounded after having an engine disintegrate in 2010. To prevent an airline accident, the European Aviation Safety Agency ordered roughly 100 of the aircraft inspected and repaired. On Wednesday, Qantas workers found similar cracks in the wing rib feet of one of their A380s and ordered the plane grounded. This has prompted questions over how widespread the cracking problem is and what threat, if any, that poses to passengers and flight crew operating the planes.

Qantas was conducting a check based on reports of substantial turbulence on a flight last month. The airplane manufacturer, Airbus, asked that the wings receive additional inspections. Those inspections turned up 36 small cracks in the brackets where the wing's ribs attach to the surface of the wing. Qantas says those cracks are not the result of turbulence. They believe the issue is related to how the planes were built.

The stakes are obviously high in determining the safety of the Airbus A380. That plane is the largest passenger jet in operation, carrying anywhere from 500 to more than 800 passengers, depending on its configuration. If one were to crash, it could be the largest air disaster in history. Despite the risk, Qantas does not intend to inspect its entire fleet of A380s. The planes have not reached the number of flight cycles that would prompt mandatory inspections. As recent estimates have placed the cost of fixing the affected planes at $1 million per aircraft, the company may be reluctant to commit to such an expensive undertaking.

Qantas issued a statement that the cracks pose no safety risk to passengers. After the engine disintegration incident, it is hard to understand how that can be the case. Safety regulators must place the lives of passengers at the top of any list of priorities. Airlines and airplane manufacturers have too much financial interest in keeping the planes in action to be left alone to make safety determinations. The safety of the flying public demands more.

Source: CBS News, "Qantas grounds A380 after finding cracks in wings," 11 February 2012

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