Joined: 24 Dec 2006
|Posted: Tue Jan 29, 2008 10:41 pm Post subject: Failure never an option for Airbus A380 service entry
|By Max Kingsley-Jones
The Airbus A380 has been plying revenue services with launch operator Singapore Airlines for three months and - according to the manufacturer - has suffered just one technical delay so far. This makes it one of the smoothest service entries in civil aviation history - a remarkable achievement for the world's biggest airliner but one that Airbus had to display given the time it had to prepare for the highest profile inaugural for a generation.
SIA put its first 471-seat, Rolls-Royce Trent 900-powered A380-800 into service on 25 October, operating daily flights between Singapore and Sydney and by mid-January, the aircraft (MSN003/9V-SKA) had accumulated 1,100 flying hours in 150 flights. "The aircraft is operating two frequencies and 15h a day," says Philippe Mhun, vice president A380 customer services. "There is a 6h transit in Singapore and 1h 50min in Sydney."
SIA's second A380 was delivered in early January, and the third will follow in late February, when a second route will be added - a daily roundtrip to London Heathrow.
To support service-entry, Airbus bolstered support operations in Singapore and Sidney with additional engineers, mechanics and personnel from Toulouse. In parallel, the A380's central maintenance system monitors the aircraft in real-time and transmits data via satellite to SIA's engineering centre and the Airbus's AIRTAC AOG control centre in Toulouse.
Each day Mhun holds a conference call with SIA's A380 control centre to review all the events from the day's two flights. "These will have already been analysed by Airbus and SIA teams, and troubleshooting or flight operations actions will have been recommended."
Mhun says that write-ups in the aircraft's technical logs are averaging 1.5 per flight, while there are typically "three to four" entries per flight in the cabin log.
He says that there are more inputs transmitted via satellite from the CMS than there are from crew's hand-written tech reports: "We receive about five post-flight report messages each for cockpit and cabin, most of them are related to pre-flight conditions where electrical power is being switched on or off, which generates some technical information."
From a technical dispatch perspective, the aircraft's only technical delay to date was on 4 January, when departure from Singapore was held up for 29min due to a spurious failure warning, says Mhun. "There was a standby static probe heating failure message, this was not a true failure but required a reset of the system to clear the warning."
The flight-test programme had prepared Airbus for spurious warning messages, and many are being filtered to prevent them being presented, says Mhun. "We are working with the suppliers to develop the built-in test equipment for the messages to be triggered in proper conditions."
Prior to service entry, reliability testing had identified 500 issues requiring resolution plans, says Mhun. "We solved most of them but there were some for which we had to set up a mitigation plan with extra spares or procedures, and beside the ones we knew about before entry-into-service there has been almost nothing new on the technical side."
Mhun says that the A380's exceptionally high technical reliability has been aided by the fact that the type's minimum equipment list "is rich in terms of capacity to dispatch", combined with Airbus anticipating which spares to hold in Singapore and Sydney.
"The maturity and route-proving campaign, and our ability to convert the programme delay into some more operational robustness was key to delivering a mature aircraft," says Mhun.
Airbus proudly quotes the comments about the A380's good behaviour by SIA's senior vice president engineering Mervyn Sirisena: "Frankly, I've never seen such a good introduction," he said. Praise indeed from an executive viewed by the industry as a "tough customer".
SIA's second A380 has taken over the Sydney services to enable MSN003 to be grounded to undergo modifications to the crew rest area for the longer-distance London flights. "We're taking the opportunity of this grounding to incorporate about 30 modifications to improve the reliability systems," says Mhun. "They are either parts of already-identified maturity items or fixes to address technical issues experienced during the entry into service."
By the end of February, SIA's MSN003 will have accumulated more than 1,500h, pushing it ahead of the highest time flight-test aircraft, says Mhun. "The SIA aircraft will become the leader in terms of ageing, so perhaps we will encounter some new issues that we've not seen before, but we are prepared for this." With the aircraft exhibiting extremely good reliability, Airbus is winding down the enhanced support teams. "We had up to 10 engineering experts, but they were sent home at Christmas," says Mhun. The flight test aircraft manager has also returned. "We are now purely relying on the reps and mechanics teams," he says.
Airbus is targeting two major "maturity embodiment milestones" over the next year or so when it will package a series of improvements based on test and early in-service experience. "Step one is when we deliver the first Emirates aircraft (MSN011) in August this year, and step two will be with the hand-over of the first Air France aircraft in April 2009," says Mhun.
The A380 has been well received by its passengers with, according to SIA, load factors running at well in excess of 80%. "They are filling up the [60-seat] business class cabin completely, even though there is a 5 to 10% fare premium for the A380," says A380 director of product marketing Richard Carcaillet.
In-service experience has prompted an adjustment of the rigging for the overhead bins, but otherwise the cabin and the Panasonic eX2 in-flight entertainment system "has been performing very well", says Mhun, who concedes that the IFE has benefited from having already been in service on the SIA's Boeing 777s.
"Very few resets are needed - and these are usually single seats, so it does not affect the whole cabin," says Mhun.
Airbus has been pleased with the in-service experience with ground handling, with SIA and its service providers being able to reproduce, every day in service the turnaround times demonstrated during route-proving.
Airbus sees the addition of London to SIA's network next month as a key "confidence milestone". It will station three staff in London to support the aircraft from the start.
The A380 will replace one of SIA's 747-400s services on the Heathrow route, providing a 20-30% increase in capacity. Like the 747 service, it will have a 6h turnaround at London. Although there is no third passenger jetway at Heathrow's A380 annex to Terminal 3, Carcaillet does not expect this will have any major impact on turnaround times.
Airbus is preparing for the launch of A380 operations by its next two customers - Emirates and Qantas (the former being the first customer for the Engine Alliance powered version) - both due for their first aircraft in the second half of this year. Like SIA, both will receive enhanced support, but adjusted to the level of maturity reached by the time their deliveries begin. "For example the engineering support would probably have been reduced from 10 people to four," says Mhun.
"We will provide this enhanced support for any future operator until the aircraft has achieved a reasonable level of dispatch reliability - for example after two years we would expect it to have achieved a good level of maturity," says Mhun.
Airbus is now working on a customised "entry-into-service preparation roadmap" with Emirates and Qantas, while with the following two customers - Air France and Lufthansa who will begin to receive A380s in the first half of 2009 - it is in the middle of the initial awareness sessions. "In March we will reboost this activity to prepare for entry-into-service," says Mhun. Airbus has just held an initial provisioning conference with the Air France/Lufthansa spares joint venture Spairliners in Hamburg, he adds.
Meanwhile, efforts to reduce the A380's weight will bring it within 0.5% of target by 2012 says Carcaillet. "At service entry the first few aircraft's empty weight was within guarantees but 2%, or 5t, above target. The weight is reducing as production increases and weight savings are incorporated into the build-standard. "From 2012, the manufacturer's empty weight will be 1.2t above target," he says.