Qatar Airways could delay A380 delivery for cracks

LONDON (Reuters) - The Chief Executive of Qatar Airways said he was confident Airbus would fix the cracks discovered on the wings of its flagship A380 superjumbo but did not rule out delaying delivery if the problem persists.

A Qatar Airways plane is seen at Aden International Airport November 29, 2010. REUTERS/Fadi Al-Assaad

“I’m sure that it (the cracks) is something that has emerged and that Airbus is capable of putting it right soon,” Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said at the opening of the airline’s new premium lounge at London’s Heathrow airport on Thursday.

“If they don’t put it right we will delay taking an aircraft. But I am confident Airbus will fix the problem.”

Qatar Airways doubled its A380 order book to 10 at last year’s Dubai air show.

It is due to receive its first A380 delivery next year.

European safety authorities ordered urgent inspections on just under a third of the superjumbo fleet last week after two types of cracks were discovered within weeks of each of other on the same type of part, an L-shaped bracket inside the wing.

At the show, Al Baker, who is known for springing surprises and has often been outspoken about both Airbus and Boeing, said Airbus was “still learning how to make airplanes”.

Al Baker said teething problems with new aircraft was the reason Qatar Airways had not decided to take the earlier models of the A380.

“Whenever a new model of car comes out I like to get the first one but after a year I need to replace it because they make so many modifications,” he said.

“That’s why we are taking the 50th A380 onwards.”

Al Baker added that he expected Qatar to receive its first Boeing BA.N 787 in June and that its first flight would be to the UK after being displayed at the Farnborough airshow.


Some experts believe U.S.-based Boeing could win the business of Airbus EAD.PA customers now leery of the European plane-maker's engineering.

“There’s a certain disruptive element in there that isn’t going to help the reputation of Airbus and the A380,” said Hans Weber, president of Tecop International, a technology management consultancy.

“Those doubts may steer people toward Boeing airplanes,” he said.

Weber said the A380 wing cracks could stoke concerns among would-be customers for the upcoming A350 and steer those buyers toward the competing Boeing 777.

“It’s certainly not a positive for Airbus,” Weber said.

Boeing declined to comment on the A380 issue.

In the United States, major airlines do not fly the world’s biggest commercial airplane, and none have any A380s on order.

Richard Aboulafia, vice-president at Virginia-based Teal Group, said Boeing may benefit simply because the time and resources Airbus commits to the A380 fix would siphon engineering talent from other programs for a while.

“Anything that gives the other guy something that occupies their resources is good for Boeing,” Aboulafia said. “These are engineering and financial resources that may be taken away from other programs.”

Robert Mann, an airline consultant at RW Mann & Co and a former American Airlines fleet planner, said new aircraft programs can be extremely risky. Airbus, he said, is no different than Boeing.

“Both have taken their lumps over new program problems,” he said of the A380 cracks and a number of issues with Boeing’s composite 787, including the discovery during flight tests of wing parts that needed replacing.

Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation and a former Federal Aviation Administration official, said the Airbus cracks were startling because they usually occur with wear over long periods.

“We don’t know what we don’t know. It’s a surprise failure. Those are the lessons (regulators and manufacturers) may take from this,” Voss said. “It shows you never finish learning in this industry.”

Reporting by Rhys Jones; Editing by Bernard Orr; Additional reporting by Kyle Peterson in Chicago and John Crawley in Washington D.C.