Further woes for Airbus A380 as rivets called into question

Posted on 20 Feb 2012 by Tim Brown

The European Aviation Safety Agency is considering issuing an airworthiness directive ordering Airbus to replace six aluminium rivets in the fuselage of the A380 due to concerns they may have unsatisfactory tolerance levels.

In a “notification of a proposal” to issue such a directive, EASA said that an engineering review had shown that the rivets, located in the fuselage, might not be strong enough to withstand the extreme stresses placed upon them, particularly during an emergency. The proposal from the EASA is to replace the rivets with much stronger titanium fasteners.

EASA added that if not corrected the problem could cause the radome at the aircraft’s nose to come off should the aircraft rapidly lose cabin pressure. The loss of the radome could “adversely affect the structural integrity of the aeroplane”, it added.

EASA said: “To address this unsafe condition Airbus developed a modification… with instructions to modify aeroplanes in service.”

Airbus played down the latest issue, maintaining that the A380 remain a safe aircraft to fly. A spokesman for the company said: “There has never been any in-flight event related to this, and the probability of an in-flight event is extremely remote.” He added that Airbus was aware of the problem and “corrective action was notified to operators by Airbus on October 17, 2011”.

The Airbus A380 wing factory at the Hawarden Airport, south of Liverpool
The Airbus A380 wing factory at the Hawarden Airport, south of Liverpool

This is just latest of a recent bout of safety issues which included the discovery minor cracks on some rib skin attachments on the aircrafts’ wings and the mid-air explosion of an engine on a QANTAS A380. Last month EASA issued an airworthiness directive calling for “a detailed visual inspection” of the aircraft’s so-called “wing rib feet” – the metal brackets that connect the wing’s ribs to its skin.

There are 68 A380s in service around the world so far, operated by airlines including Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa. Virgin Atlantic and British Airways have ordered the aircraft. Airbus aircraft wings, pylons and fuel systems are made at the company’s factories in Broughton, Wales and Filton, Bristol.