Flight International A380 flight test update Part 1

Airbus tackles glitches to keep A380 on schedule

Airbus is claiming better-than-expected early results from the A380 flight test programme, providing some comfort for managers battling to keep the project on schedule after production setbacks forced a six-month delay to initial deliveries (Flight International, 26 July–1 August).

A380 - BIG

Meanwhile, the manufacturer is studying a modest increase in the A380 production rate in an attempt to minimise the impact of delivery delays on customers.

“Honestly, I was expecting surprises,” says Airbus chief operating officer and head of A380 programme Charles Champion, expressing relief that the first phase of flight testing has uncovered only minor glitches.

The single issue preventing the aircraft’s aerodynamic configuration being frozen is the discovery that the wakes from wing spoilers can cause “very significant buffeting” of the horizontal stabiliser at certain deflections, although this is expected to prove straightforward to resolve, says Airbus vice-president flight test Fernando Alonso.

It has also been determined that some reinforcement of Rib 1 in the horizontal stabiliser is required, along with very minor structural modifications in the forward fuselage, which Champion describes as “usual business” for a new aircraft programme.

The pivotal milestones now facing the A380 test programme are the full-scale passenger evacuation trial – rescheduled for early next year – the start of long-range test flights with aircraft MSN002 and route proving with MSN007, says Champion.

He admits the manufacturer was caught off guard by the amount of customisation demanded by airlines, which caused bottlenecks in production because each fuselage specification incorporates unique wiring harnesses and hardpoints for mounting cabin monuments.

“We underestimated the volume of customisation,” says Champion. “Where we were taken by surprise is the amount of engineering hours required to deliver the technical verification sheets. We were not able to provide design inputs to the subcontractors to do the harnesses.”

This resulted in fuselage sections being delivered to the final assembly line before cabin interfaces and wiring harnesses had been installed, requiring out-of-sequence rectification work.

“The airlines are not happy – we apologised, of course, and we are not happy either,” says Champion.

In an effort to catch up with the original delivery schedule over the next few years, Airbus is investigating whether output can be increased beyond the initial four a month.

“Some customers would like to have aircraft earlier than we have announced to them,” says Champion. “What we want to do is see what we can do within our existing means, without significant extra infrastructure.”

Champion says Airbus is preparing to “test some airports pretty soon” with the prototype A380, MSN001, and reveals there is a “very high probability” that the aircraft will visit Sydney, Australia, in November – coinciding with Qantas’s 85th anniversary celebrations – before heading to the Dubai air show. “We will probably take the opportunity to check out a couple more airports for Qantas,” says Champion.

Launch operator Singapore Airlines is due to take delivery of its first A380 before the end of 2006.


Read part 2 of the A380 flight test update Waking up the problems of the vortex

Read part 3 of the A380 flight test update Early flight test yields encouraging results

Source: Flight International