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Tue 12 Jan 2010 07:14 AM

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Emirates chief says A380 bugs will soon be ironed out

President says cause of delay to South Korea flight 'not untypical' for new aircraft.

Emirates chief says A380 bugs will soon be ironed out

Airbus and airlines that fly its A380 superjumbo are working to eradicate technical bugs that dogged the jet in recent months and threaten to hurt the appeal of the world’s largest passenger plane.

Emirates Airline, the biggest buyer of the A380, delayed by several hours a South Korea to Dubai flight this week after fuel system glitches.

The incident affected 420 passengers and was one of at least eight since September on A380s, as malfunctions from the fuel supply to the engine forced delays or detours.

“I think 40 airplanes down the line, they’ll have ironed out all the bugs,” Tim Clark, president of Emirates, which has 51 A380 orders still pending, said in an interview. “These are not untypical for a new aircraft programme.”

Glitches on the A380 draw more publicity than on other jets because airlines tout the double-decker plane as their flagship model, whose size and luxuries including private cabins are a magnet for travelers.

The A380 remains a rare sight around global airports, with just 23 so far in service, giving the A380 an exotic cachet that also amplifies any malfunctions.

Airbus will likely have produced about 40 A380s by the middle of this year, based on the rate of output and the numbers of the model already in service.

Mechanical problems of the kind experienced on the A380 are the norm with new jets, and benefits including fuel efficiency and the appeal among travelers outweigh the nuisance of delays, Clark said.

Emirates worked through similar initial technical faults when it introduced the now 15 year-old Boeing Co. 777, he said.

Airbus officials declined to comment, and referred all questions to a press briefing the company will hold on Tuesday in Seville, Spain, where management will discuss the 2010 outlook for orders and production.

Still, any technical glitch forcing a later takeoff, mid- air turnaround or outright cancellation of an A380 flight has a larger knock-on effect because of the number of passengers the plane can accommodate.

Airlines have to put customers up in hotels or shuttle them back home for another flight. Airbus pays for jet modifications that need to be undertaken under warranty.

Airbus has won 200 orders for the aircraft, and aims to deliver about 20 jets to airlines this year, including new clients such as Deutsche Lufthansa AG. Airlines that choose to be among the first buyers typically get larger discounts to make up for early defects.

Airbus is marketing the A380 as a means to link global hubs with a plane that typically seats 525 and can accommodate more than 800 people, with fuel savings of as much as 20 percent over smaller models. Boeing has chosen a different strategy with its 787 Dreamliner, betting airlines will want more flexibility connecting smaller airports around the world.

European Aeronautics, Defense and Space Co., the Paris- and Munich-based parent of Airbus, has predicted additional charges from the A380 as it struggles to lift production rates and some customers postpone delivery. Production of the A380 has been complicated by airlines demanding custom interiors that include lounge bars and on-demand video.

When the plane entered service in October 2007, it was two years late and $6 billion over its original $12 billion budget. Airbus delivered 10 A380s in 2009, one short of its goal and less than a year earlier. It had initially planned more than twice the amount for 2009.

So far the bugs displayed by the A380 have followed no pattern. Qantas Airways Ltd. kept 443 passengers on an A380 for more than five hours in Melbourne on Jan. 4 before canceling the Los Angeles-bound flight because of a defective fuel indicator.

On Dec. 16, a Singapore Airlines A380 returned to Paris after two hours in the air following a cut in the power supply to on- board kitchen facilities. In September, another Singapore plane returned to Paris after one of its four engines failed, the first time a malfunction forced an aborted flight on an A380.

EADS Chief Executive Officer Louis Gallois called that incident an “absolute non-event” because the A380 can continue safely on just three of its four engines. Singapore Airlines spokesman Nicholas Ionides said the faults reported so far are “isolated and unrelated.”

“Based on our previous experience of entry into the service of new aircraft types, the A380 has had undoubtedly the smoothest introduction to our fleet,” Ionides said by e-mail.

Air France endured two technical malfunctions on its only A380 within a space of a fortnight, resulting in an aborted mid- air flight from New York to Paris on Nov. 27 and a forced hotel night for passengers in New York on Dec. 14. The company remains confident in the A380 and has positive passenger feedback, spokeswoman Marina Tymen said.

Clark, the Emirates president, agreed that there is no pattern to the glitches, and the airline is working with Airbus to smooth out the problems. He said the complexity of the A380 stems from the number of new systems in use, the jet’s size as well as a degree of customization unheard of in other models.

That has helped make the A380 a crowd-pleaser that for now eclipses the pains associated with a delay or detour, he said.

“It’s popular with the traveling public,” Clark said. “They really go out of their way to get on the plane.”

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