Airbus poised to start building new higher weight A380 variant

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Airbus is about to begin production of an upgraded A380-800 with increased operating weights that will offer more range and payload capability when it enters service with launch customer British Airways in 2013.

The new version features a 4t increase in maximum take-off weight to 573t and an additional 190km (100nm) range that will enable it to fly distances of 15,360km on MTOW-limited missions. Maximum landing weight and maximum zero fuel weight have also each increased by 2t, and structural payload capability rises by 1.5t on MZFW-limited missions.

"Because we understand design cycles much better now, we are able to further optimise the performance," says Airbus's executive vice-president programmes Tom Williams.

a380 specifications table 

Full-scale fatigue testing of the A380 has passed 45,000 cycles, which Williams say is 2.4 times the original design service goal or "aircraft life", and testing is continuing to beyond 2.5 design service goals.

To achieve the operating weight increases the airframe structure has been strengthened, which will become standard on aircraft delivered from 2013, although the higher operating weights will be offered as an option. According to Williams the increases are made possible through reductions in flight loads, which are partly achieved by the optimisation of the fly-by-wire control laws.

This new A380 build standard will be introduced later this year when assembly begins of the first wings at Airbus's Broughton, UK plant, and these will also incorporate a 1.5° increase in twist to further optimise aerodynamics as part of the improvement package. Airbus says that the upgrade does not require any thrust bumps, and is not capable of retrofit to earlier build aircraft.

BA is due to be the launch operator for the improved A380, when its first Rolls-Royce Trent 900-powered aircraft is delivered in 2013. Airbus executives previously disclosed that the weight and performance gain came from a requirement for a couple of customers during sales campaigns against the Boeing 747-8I.

Meanwhile as Airbus prepares to deliver the first A380 to the fifth customer, Lufthansa, subassemblies for the initial batch of aircraft for the sixth customer, Korean Air, have been delivered to the final assembly line in Toulouse. Delivery is scheduled for the second quarter of 2011.