Wing modification work on Emirates' Airbus A380 fleet has begun around two months later than planned due to late arrival of new aircraft.

The repair programme, designed to address wing cracks, will cover 34 Emirates A380s and is due to be completed by the end of next year.

"The modifications were due to begin in mid-March, but the first aircraft only went into modification in early May," says Tim Clark, president of the Dubai-based carrier. "We need to receive the new aircraft to backfill the fleet and maintain the route network when we release A380s for modification. There's been quite a long delay driven by the lateness of delivery of the new aircraft."

Emirates has just received its 32nd A380, which Clark says was around six weeks late, and has three more undergoing the delivery process in Toulouse. Aircraft delivered from next year will be delivered with wings built to a revised wing structure and will not need repairs after delivery. In the interim, new-build A380s with the original wing specification are having repairs undertaken prior to delivery.

Clark says that 34 of its A380s will undergo the repairs over the next 18 months or so, four aircraft at a time. The work was due to take about 20 months and be completed by November 2014. Although the programme has started two months late, Clark hopes that the November target can still be achieved: "We estimated the downtime is eight weeks, but Airbus hopes it will be able to do it in six. So Airbus is relatively optimistic that it can recapture the timeline after this delay at the front end, by shrinking the time it takes to do the job."

Clark says the revisions to the wing incorporate some structural and material changes, including the replacement of composite ribs with metal ones, and has a small weight penalty of around 60kg (132lb). It is a lifetime modification certificated to a flight limit 19,500 cycles, he adds.

The work on the Emirates fleet is being undertaken at four MRO organisations around the world, under an Airbus-managed and funded programme. "It's not our responsibility - Airbus takes the aircraft, modifies, certifies them and brings them back to us," Clark says.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news