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Looking after big bird

With just over a decade in service, the A380 is undergoing a review of maintenance procedures. Ian Goold investigates

This month (September), revised A380 maintenance and other technical documents are expected to follow analysis of Airbus full-scale fatigue testing (FSFT) of its flagship very large airliner. Publication will reflect the impact of the FSFT teardown and results of a fleet operational survey.
Almost 11 years after the double-deck design entered service, Airbus reports constantly improving operational reliability (OR), the rate of aircraft-related technical delays (of 15 minutes or less). A380s with 575 tonne maximum take-off weight (MTOW) – the production standard since mid-2013 – have a 99.2% OR, compared with a global fleet rate of exactly 99%, according to the European manufacturer. (OR should not be confused with operational availability (OA), a measure of days/year that aircraft are available for operations.)

Lufthansa, whose fleet includes older examples of the A380, cannot quite match the performance of younger machines; after starting operations with an impeccable 100% OR during the first five months of service in 2010, the European carrier has seen a slight decline in despatch reliability.
It then maintained 99%, a little above its current 98.6% average. Engineering arm Lufthansa Technik (LHT) says operational performance is "as expected, with good dispatch reliability – but a high maintenance load, which is especially driven by engine issues".

With the benefit of more than a decade's operational experience since Singapore Airlines (SIA) inaugurated A380 services, Airbus has been extending inspection intervals as it optimises maintenance schedules.

"We have been continuously working to improve operations, facilitate maintenance and increase profitability of the aircraft – in particular with an optimised cabin space," according to former A380 Programme Head Alain Flourens (now Airbus  Helicopters Executive Vice President, Engineering and Chief Technical Officer).
Such optimisation has been supported by the manufacturer's gathering of scheduled and unscheduled maintenance data, including that from aircraft of
different ages, configuration, and utilisation. Since 2008, International Maintenance Review Board Report (MRBR) Policy Board issue paper 44 (IP44) on establishment of inspection intervals has required "sufficient in-service data [from a] sufficient number of [maintenance] task occurrences," says Airbus Maintenance Engineering.
Under MRBR procedures setting minimum requirements for scheduled maintenance of certificated aircraft (and derivatives), A380 task intervals are defined in the maintenance planning document (MPD) by useage parameters: flight hours (FH), flight cycles (FC) or calendar age. For example, checks of aircraft structures are prescribed at six-year (6YE) intervals.
Likewise, in standard flight operations, block check maintenance was initially required every 1,000FH for light A checks and every 24 months (24MO) or 6,000FH for heavy C checks. Airbus points out that for the A380 there are only two engineering shop visits ahead of the first 6YE intermediate layover (IL) structural check, rather than three on other types subject to an 18MO schedule.


LHT's A380 maintenance policy essentially follows the Airbus MPD, but is 'enriched with LHT experience'. It says that, through evolutionary exercises, Airbus and the industry have successfully increased A check-equivalent intervals from 750FH to 1,000FH and C check-equivalent tasks from 24MO to 36MO intervals.
The key MPD changes are driven by Airworthiness Limitation Section (ALS) Part 2 updates as results of the fatigue testing," according to LHT. "Besides the MRBR changes, which include the interval evolution, ALS Part 2 remains the main driver for MPD changes with new requirements and revised intervals."
How did LHT, which has so far performed all A380 checks up to 6YE inspections, prepare for maintenance of the behemoth, and how has it evolved with experience? >>


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