Airbus A380 Is 5.5 Tons Overweight, Customer Reports

The Boeing Co.'s 787 Dreamliner is not the only jetliner in development that needs to go on a diet.

The double-decker A380, the 555-passenger giant from Airbus that has been delayed for up to two years by what Airbus has said are wiring problems, is about 5.5 tons overweight, a senior executive with an airline that has ordered the plane disclosed Friday.

Airbus has not previously acknowledged that its flagship new jet is significantly heavier than customers were promised.

Tim Clark, president of Emirates Airlines, which has ordered 43 of the superjumbos, revealed the weight problems while speaking Friday to reporters at Heathrow Airport in London.

"We have not yet engaged with Airbus as regards not only the delay but the fact that it is overweight," Clark told reporters, according to a Reuters report. He was in London for the opening of a new lounge at Heathrow Airport that will be used by A380 passengers.

Airbus has blamed a series of delays in getting the A380 ready for customers on wiring issues. But some industry analysts have speculated that wiring alone could not fully explain why the plane is two years behind schedule.

Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis for the Teal Group, an industry consulting business in Fairfax, Va., said it is now clear there are additional problems.

"This is big news," he said of the revelation by Clark that the A380 is 5.5 tons too heavy.

That's the equivalent of about 55 passengers who weigh 200 pounds each, Aboulafia noted.

"This goes a long way in explaining the delay," Aboulafia said. "Wiring alone did not explain what we were all hearing. It sounds like weight-reduction design changes are a big part of the delay, too."

The first A380 was supposed to have been delivered to Singapore Airlines early this year. The airline won't get the first plane until next October, Airbus has said.

Emirates will be the second airline to get A380s. But that won't happen until 2008. Under the original Airbus delivery schedule, Emirates would have had 18 A380s by the time it will now get its first plane, Clark said.

The airline is sending its own audit team to Toulouse, France, home of Airbus, to investigate the delays and determine how realistic the latest A380 delivery schedule is, Clark told reporters. The A380 problems led to a major management shake-up at Airbus this summer. The top executive resigned. His replacement recently resigned, too.

Weight is a problem with all new aircraft development programs. A heavier plane burns more fuel. Range and payload are affected.

Earlier this week, Boeing said its 787 Dreamliner is 2 percent to 3 percent over the target weight, and a team is working on the problem. Boeing would not say how many pounds that percentage represents.

"We considered whether we should give out a figure, but it literally changes by the week and sometimes by the day," a Boeing spokeswoman said Friday.

Final assembly of the Dreamliner won't start for several months. That makes it easier for engineers to look for ways to get the weight out. But the A380 is already in flight testing.

Typically, launch customers for an all-new jet from Boeing or Airbus get performance guarantees written in their contracts, with financial penalties if the plane is too heavy and does not perform as promised.

Clark would not comment on any financial compensation that Emirates might seek from Airbus because of the A380 delays and the weight problem.

And he did not sound convinced that there won't be more delays.

"It would be foolish to say we do not expect anything further," he was quoted as saying when asked if there could be a fourth A380 delay announcement from Airbus.

Clark also was asked about the A350XWB, the plane that Airbus has said it will develop to challenge Boeing's 787 as well as the bigger 777.

In July, Airbus announced that it would redesign the A350 in response to customers' criticism that the previous design was not good enough to challenge the 787.

Clark said the latest version of the A350XWB (extra wide body) is still lacking. Emirates has been considering a 100-plane order for either the 787 or A350.

Meanwhile, Airbus does not have a plane to seriously challenge either the 787 or the bigger 777.

This was underscored again Friday when Emirates announced that it has canceled a $4.2 billion order for 10 of the Airbus A340-600 models and dropped options for eight more.



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