PARIS: BA's A380 to have highest weight capability

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British Airways' initial Airbus A380, on display at the Paris air show, will be the first Rolls-Royce Trent 900-powered airframe to be capable of operating at a maximum take-off weight of 575t.

Airbus has been developing the higher-weight variant to provide greater range and payload capability for the double-deck type, and has already delivered three Engine Alliance-powered examples.

The BA aircraft, MSN95, was the first airframe on the production line to be built to the new standard but, being the customer's initial A380, it was given a later delivery slot to enable refinement of the 469-seat cabin layout. BA also opted to have a full-life wing modification completed prior to taking the aircraft, which is due to arrive on 4 July.

BA has yet to exercise the option of having the aircraft operate at 575t but A380 chief engineer Marc Guinot says the change simply involves a software modification.

Even if the option is not exercised, having the ability to change is beneficial to the residual value of the aircraft, he says.

Airbus had given the enhanced aircraft an internal project title, "A380e", and originally intended to squeeze an extra 2t capability from the highest specification figure of 569t.

"The idea was to extend the maximum take-off weight by modifying the structure, but not jeopardising the industrial process," says Guinot.

These structural changes included thickening some centre-section components in the critical junction of the wing, as well as making the belly fairing more robust.

Airbus has introduced probe technology from the A350 enabling faster transmission of data to the flight-control computer. This gives a faster response from the ailerons during wind gusts and alleviates load by moving the centre of lift inboard to reduce wing-bending moments.

It has also improved the twist of the wing in cruise which, says Guinot, cuts the airframe drag by 0.5%. "It's important [in cruise] to have the right profile," he says.

Guinot says these enhancement have allowed the airframer to go beyond its initial target and add 6t to the maximum take-off weight, creating the new 575t variant, with "minimum rework". The net result is a 200nm increase in range or a 3.5t hike in payload.

"We launched this in a very discreet manner," says Guinot. "We wanted to understand what the aircraft's potential was."

He says the modification cannot be retrofitted to aircraft built to the previous standard.

While Airbus has not identified the customer for the initial Engine Alliance-powered airframes, Emirates - which is planning to open A380 service to Los Angeles - received the only two Engine Alliance A380s out of the six jets delivered in the first five months of 2013.

Airbus has been seeking to reduce the structural weight of the A380 and Guinot says the effort has cut 1.6t from the airframe since it entered service in 2007, including around 600kg in the wings. But he points out: "Our aircraft has always met all the guarantees, and guarantees are more important."