US grounds all F-35s over engine blade crack

By Zach Rosenberg

The discovery of the blade crack comes five years after the first flight of the F-35B short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant was delayed several months due to fatigue-related blade failures in the third-stage LPT.

The latest crack – discovered only days after the F-35B returned to flight following a 25-day grounding caused by a fueldraulics failure – was discovered on 19 February by a borescope inspection on an F-35A at Edwards AFB, California, and confirmed by an eddy current inspection, P&W says.

“It is too early to know the fleet-wide impact of this finding,” says the Joint Program Office (JOPO). But all F-35s are grounded “until the investigation is complete and the cause of the blade crack is fully understood”.

The engine in the 19 February incident has run a total of around 700h, of which 409h were flight hours, P&W says.

Though the issue was found in a single engine, there was no clear cause behind the crack. The engine’s turbine module has been shipped to P&W’s Connecticut test facility for closer inspection.

“We will conduct more thorough evaluations to determine the cause of the indication of the crack,” the engine maker says.

Lockheed referred all questions about the grounding to the international joint programme office.

Two previous incidents with the third stage low pressure turbine blades have resulted in F-35 groundings in the past, once in 2007 and again in 2008. Those incidents, which both occurred in the F-35B vertical-takeoff variant, were traced to high-cycle fatigue. Unexpected vibration levels were caused by interaction of the the blade with the wakes from vanes upstream of the third-stage turbine.

The troubled aircraft programme, meant to provide a new fighter-bomber for all three major services of the US military, has been grounded several times before.

Sourced by Flightglobal


UK air ambulance services cleared to fly again

An air ambulanceThe EC 135 is used by many emergency services as well as for transport to offshore oil and gas sites

Air ambulances have been cleared to fly again from Wednesday, after half of the UK’s fleet of 32 helicopters were grounded over safety fears.

The main operator, Bond Air Services, had withdrawn all 22 of its Eurocopter EC 135 helicopters – including 16 air ambulances – over concerns about possible cracks in the rotor hub.

The model is used by air ambulance services in Scotland, Wales, north-west England, Midlands and other counties.

Flights are set to resume at 07:00 GMT.

Earlier Bond said Eurocopter had advised pre and post-flight checks after the fault was discovered but that Bond had decided to halt flights as a precaution on safety grounds.

The Association of Air Ambulances (AAA) said 16 helicopters were affected out of the 30 in service for charities in England and Wales plus two run by the Scottish Ambulance Service.

About 1,000 EC 135s are in use around the world, including air ambulance services in England, Scotland and Wales.

In England, the model is in use at Thames Valley and Chiltern, North West, Midlands, Dorset and Somerset, Hampshire and Isle of Wight, and Devon, according to the AAA.

Daily checks

West Midlands Ambulance Service said that following further testing by Eurocopter, Bond agreed to restart flights and that daily checks will be carried out on the potentially affected area until they are replaced by Eurocopter.

WMAS said it had already made contingency plans to cover for the three EC 135s run by the Midlands Air Ambulance charity, while two helicopters run in the area by the Air Ambulance Service remained in service.

A West Midlands Ambulance Service spokesman said: “Safety has to be the number one consideration for both patients and staff and we understand why Bond took the decision they did.

“Clearly it is good news that we will be back up to the full complement of five aircraft.”

Air ambulances are used to provide emergency transport where a traditional ambulance cannot get quick or easy enough access, for example, in mountain rescue situations.

The Scottish service is government-funded, but the remainder across England and Wales rely on public donations.

Last month, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) ordered increased safety inspections on the EC 135 while a possible fault was being investigated.

Bond said its mechanics had subsequently found a crack during maintenance work at Staverton Airport, Gloucestershire, and reported it to Eurocopter.

Eurocopter then issued an additional safety notice on Sunday morning following urging daily visual checks.

It did not order that the fleet be grounded, but Bond said it felt compelled to take that decision.

Sourced from BBC News.

Airbus finds solution to cracks in Broughton-made wings

Airbus graphicAn Airbus boss says the company has found a long-term solution to small cracks in some of the A380 super jumbo wings, which are made in Flintshire.

Tom Williams, an Airbus executive vice president, said the issue had been an embarrassment and customers had been let down.

He said there were no safety worries caused by the problem.

Small cracks were discovered last year in a small number of brackets within the Broughton-made wings.

The brackets connect the internal structure of the A380 wings with the outer skin.

It prompted the European Aviation Safety Agency to order inspections at designated times for the entire fleet currently in service.

Mr Williams, speaking at the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, said mistakes had been made in the choice of material for the brackets, and in the way they were designed.

He said it did not in any way reflect badly on the workers at Broughton, as they followed the design specification correctly.

Temporary repairs are being carried out.

Mr Williams said: “I think we now have a long-term solution from a design point of view.

Tom Williams gave an honest assessment of the cracks problem when he spoke to reporters at the Airbus HQ in Toulouse, describing it as personally embarrassing and his top priority.At the same time the company is bullish about the future.

For nine out of the past 10 years, Airbus has sold more planes than its great American rival Boeing.

And there’s a six year backlog as it deals with the ever increasing demand from airlines, particularly in the emerging economies. It will surprise no-one that Broughton was described as an integral part of the business but there is competition.

Airbus now sells a huge proportion of its planes to the middle and far east and many of these countries want some of the work if they’re buying so many aircraft.

It already makes some wings in China and a recent contract for work was taken from Broughton and given to a Korean company.

It means that all of the plants in Europe, including Broughton, will have to remain competitive to keep work in future.

“We have now got to develop the design and put it in real components, build and test those because we do not just flick a switch and say okay let’s turn everything over tonight.

“We are now in a situation that by the end of the year we will have a good fix, but keeping in mind the lag it will be well into 2014 before you see aircraft going through the production system that are completely clean.”

The first flight of an A380, which is the largest passenger aircraft in the world and capable of carrying 800 passengers, took place just over five years ago.

Around 70 are in service and a further 250 have been ordered.

Speaking about the impact the cracks had on Airbus’ customers, Mr Williams said: “There have been cancellation and delays.

“The A380 is successful and makes the airlines lots of money but when it’s on the ground you have the reverse so it gets to become expensive.

“It’s embarrassing that we have let people down.

“Certainly, from the workers I have been talking to, they have the same sense. We were wrong and we have got to fix it quickly.

Airbus vice president Tom Williams said a long term fix has been found

“We are trying to be open and transparent with customers about the issues.”

Production of A380s slowed down slightly as a result of the problem, but has now returned to normal and there was no impact on staffing levels at Broughton, which employs 6,000 people and produces virtually every wing made by Airbus.

Of the 30 A380s inspected so far, it has been the same 20 brackets where problems have turned up.

There are about 4,000 of these brackets in each set of wings and the problem has been found to be localised in each case.

Sourced by BBC

Cracks fear grounds two of three Wales Air Ambulance helicopters

Wales Air Ambulance EC135 helicopter G-WASN taking off Wales Air Ambulance has three helicopters, two like this, based in Caernarfon, Gwynedd, and Swansea, and a different model in Welshpool, Powys

Two of Wales’ three air ambulances have been grounded on safety grounds over concerns about possible cracks in the helicopter model’s rotor blades.

The firms which operates the Eurocopter EC 135 has grounded all 22 helicopters it runs in the UK as a precaution.

The EC 135 is used as air ambulances across England, Scotland and Wales.

Charity Wales Air Ambulance (WAA) said its 20-year-old helicopter based in Welshpool, Powys, is currently covering the whole of the country.

The operator, Bond Air Services, said it had taken action over concerns about possible cracks in the rotor blades.

Bond said a safety notice had been issued by the helicopter manufacturer, Eurocopter, on Sunday morning, urging operators to increase the frequency of checks on the EC 135 after cracks were found in several helicopters.

Eurocopter has not ordered that the fleet be grounded, but Bond said it felt compelled to take that decision.

WAA said its respected Bond’s decision as the safety of patients and air crew was “absolutely paramount” although no defects had been found in its own machines.

‘Exemplary safety record’

It said a routine check of an EC 135 in Europe had found a small crack which was similar to a defect found on an EC 135 in Scotland in February.

It added: “WAA is still operational in Wales with the use of its third helicopter, which is a different model and not subject to the investigation.”

The charity said it has leased two EC 135 air ambulances from Bond since 2009 and the model had an exemplary safety record.

The service has carried out more 16,000 missions to date since its launch on St David’s Day 2001, with each mission costing approximately £1,500.

It said that the service costs £6m per year to run.

The Scottish Ambulance Service says its patients will be transported in the meantime by coastguard and military helicopters or its own fixed-wing aircraft.

Sourved by BBC

ATM: Qatar to defer A380s over wing cracks

By Lucy Sierbert

Qatar Airways will defer delivery of its A380s until it gets more details about wing cracks on the aircraft, reports Reuters.

The news agency said Qatar Airways’ chief executive Akbar Al Baker announced the plan yesterday at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.

“Qatar Airways will have to defer scheduled deliveries of its A380s from October 2013 until we have a clear position on the issue surrounding wing cracks which are under process of modification by Airbus,” he was quoted as saying.

The airline has 10 A380s on order.

Airbus is working with a number of airlines over the issue, including Qantas.

“I hope they will solve the problem…they are working very hard on it. There is a possibility for us to defer, yes. If there is no permanent solution found then we will have to defer,” Al Baker said.

Sourced by TTG Digital

Airbus slows ‘superjumbo’ production after wing cracks

Airbus slows 'superjumbo' production after wing cracks

Airbus is cutting production of A380 superjumbos as it addresses recent problems with wing cracks.

But the European manufacturer is maintaining a target of delivering 30 of the double decker aircraft this year.

A spokesman confirmed a report in France’s La Tribune that it had slowed down production to 2.3 aircraft a month from 2.7 as it prepares to install fixes to prevent a repeat of cracks found earlier this year.

“We decided to take a bit of steam out of production temporarily to install fixes and will ramp back up by the fourth quarter to the original plan,” the spokesman told Reuters.

“This has no impact on plans to deliver 30 aircraft this year, nor on the breakeven point which is still scheduled for early 2015.”

La Tribune said the slowdown had cast doubt on both the delivery and breakeven targets. Cracks blamed on manufacturing flaws were discovered on some of the 2,000 brackets inside each wing earlier this year.

Safety authorities have set a deadline for fleet-wide checks but have said the aircraft is safe to fly meanwhile. Airbus delivered four A380s in the first quarter, the same total as in the first three months of last year.

Sourced from Travel Weekly

Qantas finds ‘type two’ cracks on two A380s

By:   Mavis Toh Singapore

Qantas Airways has discovered “type two” cracks on two of its Airbus A380 aircraft and is now in talks with the airframer the cost implications of repairs.

The carrier found “fewer than 10” cracks on the wing-rib feet on the affected aircraft, a spokesman said.

The cracks were discovered on aircraft VH-OQA and VH-OQB, in February and March, respectively, after the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) ordered checks on the worldwide fleet of A380s.

VH-OQB has since been returned to service while VH-OQA, the same aircraft that suffered an uncontained engine failure near Singapore in November 2010, is still undergoing tests.

“We are in discussions with Airbus about the cost implications of the inspection and repair requirements,” says Qantas.

The spokesman adds that Qantas continues to comply fully with the EASA airworthiness directive mandating inspections on A380 wing-rib feet and that the cracks pose no risks to the safety of the affected aircraft.

The Australian carrier grounded another A380 – VH-OQF – last month after 36 cracks were found on the wing-rib feet.

On 8 March, Airbus parent EADS said it had made a €105 million ($138 million) provision to cover the cost of repairs to the initial 67 A380s in service.

No mention was made of any provision for compensation and the airframer could not immediately indicate whether there would be additional costs arising from manufacturing changes.

Emirates is also seeking compensation from the aircraft manufacturer for the disruption to its operations caused by the discovery of the cracks on 10 of its A380s.

Sourced by Flightglobal