It is understood in Toulouse, France, that Airbus is in negotiations with South African Airways (SAA) about the A380 Superjumbo jet. It is known that Airbus believes that the economic arguments in favour of the South African flag carrier acquiring their double-deck airliner are irrefutable.
The A380 is already being flown in to OR Tambo International Airport by two operators, Air France and Lufthansa, with more set to follow. It has already been established on other routes, that airlines operating the Superjumbo gain market share from those that do not. Moreover, the latest developments of the A380 design would allow SAA to fly directly from Johannesburg to New York, as well as use it on direct Johannesburg-Europe routes.
So far, the A380 has racked up 253 firm orders from 19 customers, with the order backlog currently standing at 180. Around the world, an A380 now takes off or lands every eight minutes, every day of the year. A million passengers a month now travel on the aircraft.
Since entry into service, and despite some problems (with engines and with wing rib brackets, known as rib feet) the aircraft has demonstrated an average reliability of 97.6%. Surveys have reported that 92% of passengers who have flown on the A380 have a "positive" attitude to the aircraft, as against 4% who felt "neutral" and another 4% who were "negative".
"You can't win them all," quipped Airbus chief operating officer: customers John Leahy in Toulouse on Wednesday.
"The rib feet cracking is not a big issue," he assured. "It's not a safety issue. But it is a maintenance issue. It will cost us money."
Airbus executive VP: programmes Tom Williams agreed. "The ribs are not primary load carrying structures. Is it an airworthiness safety issue? Definitely not! The aircraft is still perfectly safe to fly. But it does impose an inspection regime on airlines and it becomes a maintenance issue."
He explained that there are about 60 ribs in each wing, with some 4 000 rib feet. The cracks affect only 20 brackets in each wing. A solution has already been developed and will be tested in the coming months. Once qualified and certified, it will be incorporated as standard in future production aircraft and retrofitted to existing A380s.
* Keith Campbell attended the Airbus Innovation Days in Toulouse, France, as a guest of the company.