A380’s stellar performance undermined by ongoing technical issues: operators

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Two years on from its service debut, operators have told Flightglobal that the Airbus A380 has proved itself to be a crowd pleaser from a passenger point of view but suffers some frustrating technical problems.

This week's Flight International features our exclusive A380 in-service report, in which launch customers Emirates, Qantas and Singapore Airlines provide no-holds-barred overviews of the double-decker's performance, while Airbus, Engine Alliance and Rolls-Royce give feedback on their experiences.

The general verdict is that the A380 has delivered a significant operational boost to the airlines' marketing teams and has equalled or bettered performance guarantees but continues to experience technical delays caused by problems that Airbus acknowledges it should have got on top of by now.

"We're busting our seams on the A380, this aeroplane is a peach," says Emirates Airline president Tim Clark, who adds that performance has beaten the manufacturer's guarantees. "The faster the A380 flies the less fuel it burns," he adds.

 © H. Gousse/Airbus

This is echoed by Qantas group executive operations Lyell Strambi who says the aircraft has "met or exceeded" all the guarantees.

The airlines are united in their praise for Airbus's support, which executive vice-president Tom Williams admits is running at a "heavier level" than envisaged at this point in the programme.

The A380 has suffered the usual gremlins that crop up during early operations, such as problems with sensors and some component failures. However, the single most frustrating technical issue centres around the warning system, which SIA and Emirates believe is too sensitive, and results in misplaced fault messages.

Clark blames the problem on "overcomplex" software that has dragged down the technical despatch reliability from the 98.5% target to the "96-97%" level.

Airbus says it is working hard to address the problem and raise the TDR to the target level, which Williams expects will be achieved by mid-2010.

SIA, which has the largest A380 fleet and was the type's first operator two years ago, says it has suffered some "teething problems" with its Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines, which has prompted a number of unscheduled changes.

R-R's head of marketing for Airbus programmes, Richard Keen, says that SIA's "very precautionary approach" to its A380 operations, with regard to any possible operational risks, "necessitated an extra engine change or two".

However, he adds that all the teething problems have been "closed out or contained" and that the Trent 900's "disruption index" is running at 99.8% - in line with a mature Trent product.