Airbus Says Engine Recovery Won’t Disrupt A380
Airbus said on Tuesday it had workarounds to ensure that Rolls-Royce's request to take back engines from its A380 assembly line would not disrupt production of the world's largest passenger plane.
Industry suppliers at an airshow in China said there was talk Airbus would be unable to move A380s from their assembly plant in France to a finishing facility in Germany, after Rolls-Royce asked it to return engines from the production line so they could be used to replace faulty ones on aircraft in service.
Rolls-Royce's request follows the blowout of a Trent 900 engine on a full Qantas A380 flight on November 4.
To keep production running smoothly, barebones A380s must be flown from Toulouse to Hamburg to be painted in airline livery and receive millions of dollars' worth of complex cabin systems. "We do not see any disruption to production as a result of engine modifications or upgrades," an Airbus spokesman said by telephone when asked about concerns over cabin production.
However, an extensive recall of Rolls engines to keep superjumbos flying could force Airbus to shuttle engines back and forth between Toulouse and Hamburg to keep production flowing.
The plane maker has resorted in the past to borrowing engines from one factory to go and fetch a plane from another factory, and could be forced to play ping pong with its engines again if supplies become scarce. Engines grafted on to an airframe purely for the purposes of ferrying it are nicknamed "pusher engines".
"We have the possibility to use pusher engines and have done so previously, both for Rolls-Royce and Engine Alliance engines," the spokesman said, referring to a General Electric-Pratt & Whitney consortium that also makes A380 engines.
In this scenario, engines could be removed from a plane in Hamburg, flown to Toulouse on board one of the company's outsized cargo planes, known as Belugas, fitted to an A380 airframe and then flown back to the northern German city for finishing touches that can take over eight weeks to complete.
One industry source familiar with the production mechanism said such operations, if repeated too often, could have an unforeseen impact on A380 or other production and raise costs.
The Beluga fleet operates on a minutely managed schedule to move bulky aircraft sections between four European countries.
Cabin systems are among the most valuable parts of the aircraft after airframe and engines, and installing them can take eight or more weeks, people familiar with the process said.
The first A380 delivery to a new customer takes the longest as workers get to grips with unfamiliar customisation.
A380s sold to airlines in or near Europe are delivered from Hamburg, but planes for Asian customers must return to Toulouse for delivery. That is because the Hamburg runway is too short for the aircraft to take off with the extra weight of fuel required.
Cannibalising engines could lead to gaps in these transfers and put the Hamburg operation out of step with Toulouse, leading to a backlog, one source familiar with the programme said, while adding the impact of this had not yet been established.
Airbus has said some 2011 deliveries could be delayed as it wrestles with the consequences of this month's Qantas emergency.
Among scheduled 2011 deliveries, Airbus plans to deliver the first of five Rolls-powered A380s for China Southern. Airbus said delivery would go ahead as planned.