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Cracks inside wings? Watchdog orders checks on every Airbus A380

Morris Mac Matzen / Reuters, file

An Airbus A380 aircraft is seen in the paint shop at the Airbus facility in Finkenwerder, Germany, on Jan. 17.

Updated at 9:40 a.m. ET: BERLIN -- Europe's aviation watchdog called for checks Wednesday on the entire worldwide fleet of Airbus A380 superjumbo jets for cracks on parts inside the wings.

The European Aviation Safety Agency's (EASA) move to inspect all 68 A380s in service came as Qantas Airways grounded one of its planes, saying engineers had found 36 wing cracks after the aircraft encountered severe turbulence.

By signaling that the defects may be structural and widespread, the fleet-wide inspection order will refocus attention on flaws identified in flagship jets at both Airbus and Boeing.

 

Both aircraft makers maintain that their newest jets remain safe to fly after problems were caught at an early stage. On Tuesday, Japan Airlines said it no longer expects its first 787 Dreamliner from Boeing by the end of February due to a fresh manufacturing glitch. The issue involves shims, which are spacers between the 787's skin and the parts that support it.

EASA last month ordered checks on one-third of the A380 fleet after cracks were found in a handful of the thousands of L-shaped brackets that fix each wing's exterior to its internal ribcage-like structure. That order applied to the 20 planes that have flown the most.

'Long-term fix'
EASA's updated  airworthiness directive "covers the A380 fleet as they approach 1,300 flight cycles and validates the ongoing inspection and repairs on the 20 aircraft covered by the first AD," Airbus, a unit of European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co., said in a statement.

EASA spokesman Dominique Fouda said the agency is "working with Airbus on a long-term fix that should be ready by the summer."

Qantas said it discovered dozens of hairline cracks in a jet's wings during a maintenance inspection. The Australian flagship carrier said the 36 small fissures posed no threat to safety.

Qantas workers found the cracks, measuring less than 0.8 inches long, in the "wing rib feet" after the aircraft hit severe turbulence on a flight from London to Singapore last month. The cracks were not related to the turbulence and were linked to an Airbus manufacturing issue, the airline said in a statement.

Qantas conducted routine checks after the turbulence incident, then conducted "additional precautionary inspections" on the wings at Airbus' request, the airline said. The cracking was discovered in the precautionary inspections, Qantas said.

Qantas is working to repair the cracks and said it expects the plane to be back in the air within a week.

Qantas spokesman Tom Woodward said the cracks are the same type the airline recently found in the wing ribs of an A380 that is being repaired in Singapore following the disintegration of an engine in midflight in 2010. The 2010 engine failure was the most significant safety issue an A380 has faced since it began passenger flights in 2007, and prompted airlines to temporarily ground 20 of the planes.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.