Fresh safety concerns emerged yesterday about tiny cracks in the wings of the world's largest airliner, the Airbus A380.
European air safety authorities ordered that checks, announced last month on microscopic cracks inside the wings, should be extended to all 68 aircraft.
Earlier Australian airline Qantas said it had grounded one of its 12 Airbus "super-jumbos" after finding a different, but apparently unthreatening, hairline cracking in its wings.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said it was extending its January 20 "airworthiness directive" to all 68 A380s after studying the results of the initial inspections. Airbus insisted the 2cm cracks - found on some small brackets inside the wings - did not affect flying.
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"These brackets are located on wing ribs which are not main load-bearing structure, and thus the safe operation of the aircraft is not affected," Airbus said. "Nearly 4000 such brackets are used on the A380 to join the wing-skin to the ribs. Only a handful of brackets per aircraft have been found to have been affected."
But the EASA said the cracks, if not corrected, "could potentially affect the structural integrity of the aircraft".
Officials had initially ordered that the 20 oldest A380s should be inspected and any faulty brackets fixed within six weeks. This order now applies to all 68 jets in service with seven airlines.
A further 185 super-jumbos have been ordered, with Airbus forecasting the A380 programme will break even by 2015. Existing aircraft are divided between Emirates (20), Singapore Airlines (15) Qantas (12), Lufthansa (8), Air France (6), Korean Air (5) and China Southern Airlines (2).
The 525-seat, double-decker A380s will continue to fly while safety checks are made as part of routine maintenance schedules.