Hitches in A380 superjumbo a recurrent problem for Emirates

The grounding of the flight was the latest in a series of similar problems over the past two years.

The grounding of an Emirates Airline A380 in Seoul on Sunday is a reminder that the carrier and other operators of the superjumbo are "guinea pigs" for the Airbus aeroplane, an analyst says. The grounding of the flight was the latest in a series of similar problems over the past two years. Last year, the airline produced a 46-page report for officials at the Toulouse-based airframe manufacturer, detailing breakdowns that grounded the first four A380 aircraft in the Emirates fleet for 500 hours in the first 18 months of operation.

On Sunday, Emirates sent a team of engineers with spare parts from Dubai to Seoul after a preliminary investigation was unable to resolve the unspecified technical problems. A local spokesman for Emirates in Seoul reportedly said the problems involved the fuel system. Emirates stands by the plane, calling it an "excellent aircraft" that garners "very positive" feedback from customers, a spokeswoman said.

But the Dubai-based airline and the other A380 customers - Air France, Qantas and Singapore Airlines - have experienced more teething problems than expected for a new aircraft, analysts say. "There seems to be more bad news for Airbus on the A380 every few days," said Doug McVitie, the chief consultant at Arran Aerospace, based in Pluduno, France. He blamed the problems on the fact that the planes were being hand-built at low production rates. "Each aircraft is individual and different, so they have not got up over the learning curve," he said.

Airbus was unavailable for comment yesterday. All new aircraft programmes suffered from early glitches, Mr McVitie said, pointing to the now successful Boeing 777 as an example. But with nearly five years under its belt since the first test flight of the A380, Airbus should have resolved many of these already, he said. "These things need to be worked out during flight test and before delivery. Instead, airlines are acting as guinea pigs. It is costing them a fortune and they will be asking for money back from Airbus," he said.

Emirates, the largest customer of the A380 aircraft from Airbus with 58 A380s on order at a value of more than US$17 billion (Dh62.39bn) at list prices, flies the aeroplanes to Toronto, Seoul, Sydney, Auckland, London and Bangkok, with plans that include Jeddah and Paris. Emirates apologised for the inconvenience caused to the more than 400 passengers on Sunday's cancelled flight from Incheon International Airport. They were put up at local hotels and were to fly out yesterday after a 19-hour delay.