Airbus readies Toulouse plant for A380 wing inspections after wing-spar cracking

As the second anniversary of the A380 superjumbo's final roll out from its Toulouse birthplace looms, Airbus is already orchestrating a homecoming. But this is no celebration: the mighty A380s are returning for rigorous wing examinations.

Indeed, it's a juxtaposition. In 2021, the cessation of the A380 production made way for the A321neo assembly line within the expansive confines of the Jean-Luc Lagardere assembly hall. The inauguration of this new line, dedicated to the single-aisle A321neo, is marked for Monday.

Simultaneously, another corner of this sprawling plant bristles with preparation. Anticipation builds for the arrival of several A380s, owned by Emirates, the A380's largest operator. They will be under scrutiny, possibly subjected to repairs, as concerns about accelerated cracking in wing spars have surfaced. These defects, though, only manifested in jets that lay dormant during the pandemic.

A segregated space, coined the "A380 Emirates" inspection facility, began to take shape last December, with project timelines extending to the third quarter of 2024, according to the Force Ouvriere union. In an attempt to incentivize workers, Airbus announced a special bonus scheme, retroactive to last year.

"We're lending our support for inspections on a few aircraft in Toulouse," voiced an Airbus representative, subtly corroborating the union's claims.

Emirates, steadfast in their assertion that these issues pose no immediate safety threat, projected minimal operational disruption due to the inspection and repair scheme. The scope of these inspections is dictated by the lifespan of each installed wing.

"We are in close coordination with Airbus and our MRO partners to meet the inspection and repair needs of our A380s," relayed an Emirates spokesperson. They added, "The bulk of this effort will be undertaken at the Emirates' Engineering Centre, with Airbus supplementing MRO support in Toulouse."

The downtime for each aircraft hinges on the discoveries made and subsequent repairs, averaging around "60 days," the spokesperson estimated.

Last month, Emirates' President, Tim Clark, reassured reporters, "The first aircraft is under repair, and this issue will have an insignificant impact on our operating profit."

The Jean-Luc Lagardere site, operational since 2004, still boasts the title of the world's second-largest building by usable space. It remains among a handful of plants accommodating the towering A380s, as a scarcity of third-party repair capacity persists.

Meanwhile, both Airbus and Boeing are reshaping their legendary factories as the aviation industry shifts from the defunct four-engined jumbo jets towards the more sought-after smaller models. This transformation reflects the evolution in air travel preferences.

As of Friday, Airbus's data revealed the A321neo's total orders had surpassed 5,000 units, crowning it the most popular model in their portfolio.