Qantas says latest A380 delay unrelated to wing cracks

SINGAPORE Sun Feb 12, 2012 9:42pm EST

An Indonesian baggage handler pushes a trolley full of surf boards to be loaded onto an Australia-bound Quantas flight at Denpasar airport on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, October 14, 2002. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

An Indonesian baggage handler pushes a trolley full of surf boards to be loaded onto an Australia-bound Quantas flight at Denpasar airport on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, October 14, 2002.

Credit: Reuters/Darren Whiteside

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SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Qantas Airways (QAN.AX) played down a steering issue that forced an Airbus A380 to twice abandon departure before taking off from London's Heathrow airport Saturday, saying it was unrelated to wing cracks that have led Europe's air safety officials to order global checks on the superjumbo.

Qantas said the plane, due to fly from London to Singapore, was travelling at a very slow speed when the decision was made to return to bay.

"It was due to the steering issue. It has no relation to the cracks in the wing ribs at all," Qantas spokeswoman Courtney Treak said. "Our engineers were able to fix the issue, so we don't have any further concerns."

A spokesman for manufacturer Airbus EAD.PA declined to comment, saying that only the airline could comment on operational matters.

Dr Faye Smith, business development director at the Royal Aeronautical Society, said the A380 aircraft was on the runway when it twice abandoned take-off.

"Technical issues with the nose gear meant the pilot had to abort take off and have us towed off the runway for repairs twice," Smith told Reuters by email.

"On both failed occasions we were on the runway, started to build up speed for take-off and then suddenly felt deceleration and we stopped on the runway," she added.

The five-hour delay for repairs meant Heathrow had to lift a curfew banning night flights at the airport which has tough noise restrictions.

The incident comes several weeks after the discovery of hairline cracks on part of the frame inside A380 wings. European safety authorities last week extended inspections for similar cracks to the whole fleet according to a detailed timetable.

Airbus and operators say there is no risk to safety, but German magazine Der Spiegel said the problem could cost Airbus 100 million euros ($132 million).

While a "rejected take-off" gets logged in the industry, aircraft are designed to abandon take-off easily and safely at any time before reaching a certain decision speed.

However, the incident continues a run of embarrassing glitches and bad luck for Airbus and Qantas after an A380 with an engine problem diverted to Dubai in November carrying British actor Stephen Fry, who tweeted the event to millions of followers.

On this occasion, the delayed Qantas flight was carrying delegates and aerospace executives to the Singapore Air Show.

Financial analysts watching Airbus parent EADS have mostly played down the significance of the cracked brackets inside the A380 wings, focusing on improvements in production times.

(Reporting by Tim Hepher in SINGAPORE, Additional reporting by Sonali Paul in MELBOURNE, Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

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