There has been a fair amount of A380 news lately.
Aviation Week (dead tree only) had an interesting pilot report. Two things I didn’t know about the A380 is that it comes with two built-in laptops for the pilots, and it has cameras on the tail and the belly to give the pilots an exterior view. The belly camera is used to help taxi the behemoth.
On the business side, news has not been good for Airbus. It’s A380 customers are being increasing restive about delivery delays. They are almost certainly demanding and getting price reductions from Airbus.
Of course Airbus have yet to generate the first Euro of revenue from the product. The A-380 drain on both money and manpower threaten the A-350WB and A-400M (C-130 clone) products.
Another problem they have is that while Airbus pays most of its bills in euros, it sells airplanes in dollars, exposing it to currency fluctuation risk. Airbus did the prudent thing and purchased currency hedges on the futures market. But these futures are timed for the original delivery schedule. As deliveries slide to the right Airbus may get another black eye if the dollar moves against them.
Boeing seems to be riding high, orders being announced on an almost weekly basis. For example today Dubai-based carrier Emirates announced plans to buy 20 747-8 Freighter planes from Boeing for a total of 5.6 billion dollars. The B-747-8 is an updated 747 that directly competes with the A-380.
There have been a number of technical disappointments during the A-380 development. The failure of the wing’s ultimate load test must have been a heartbreaker for them. But most of the trouble seems to center on software. Not the famous flight control software, Airbus has got that figured out. It’s the design software, especially the software process used to design the massively complex wiring harness.
I was skeptical about this when I first heard about it. Big airplanes the world over are designed using a program called CATIA, from the French Dassult Systems company. My understanding is that the latest airplanes, such as the B-2 bomber and Boeing 777 are so well designed that the wiring harness can be built offsite complete with connectors, and then the airplane is assembled around the wires, and everything just fits. This is a lot faster and cheaper than the old way. In the past airplane wiring harnesses were made with extra lengths and no connectors. Once the wires were in the airplane then they would be trimmed and connectors installed one-by-one, by hand.
It sounds like Airbus expected to use the new method, and wound up having to do their wiring the old fashioned way.
All the on the record reports and off the record internet rumors agree that the wiring harness are all FUBAR. One rumor I read said that every A-380 has a unique and not fully documented wiring configuration. The rumor is that each of the first batch of airplanes will have to be certified individually due to these configuration issues.
As near as I can tell the airframe was designed in France, and the wiring was designed in Germany. The Germans used CATIA Version 4, while the French used CATIA Version 5. It turns out that these versions are very different, and it isn’t easy, and may not be possible, to take the version 4 wiring design and integrate it with the version 5 airframe design. The result is the world’s biggest airliner has hand made, ad-hoc wiring.
Airbus has a new CEO. I don’t envy him one bit.
I hope he’s not stuck with another