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Major Maintenance Due For Airbus A380s

Airbus’s announcement it will release new variants, FAA’s focus on the large widebody, and airlines’ call for modifications are shaping 2015 into the year of th

In response to pressure from a major customer, Airbus has announced it may launch both a reengined version of the A380 and a stretched version of the giant widebody in the next decade. These possibilities have caused some to worry that the A380 orderbook, never very large, might be challenged by interest in more-attractive derivatives.

But the A380s already flying, and those scheduled for delivery, are already starting to require major maintenance and this need will continue for the next five years. The total A380 fleet is set to almost double, to 286 aircraft by the end of 2019, as Airbus delivers at least 25 more planes each year.

These numbers aren’t anything like narrowbody counts, but in maintenance hangars, the A380 is a hungry beast. According to MRO Prospector, airlines will spend about $6.8 billion maintaining and modifying the A380 from January 2015-December 2019. The total bill will be more than $800 million in 2015, will top $1.2 billion in 2016, plateau around $1.5 billion in 2017 and 2018, then surge to nearly $1.9 billion in 2019.

The biggest single-cost element will ultimately be engine maintenance, as it usually is. Carriers will spend only $176 million to repair the A380’s Rolls-Royce Trent 900s and Engine Alliance GP7000s in 2015. But by 2017, the engines will have been flying for 10 years, with a maintenance bill that will swell to more than $600 million. Through the end of 2019, carriers will spend more than $2.1 billion on these powerplants, or 31% of the total MRO bill. 

Components and modifications are the next-largest spending items, each totaling $1.6 billion in the 2015-19 period. The component bill rises steadily, from $225 million in 2015 to $426 million in 2019, as the operating fleet increases in size.

Modifications are forecast to cost $195 million in 2015, and $447 million in 2019. Some modifications will be done to meet regulators’ concerns. For example, EASA airworthiness directive (AD) 2014-0274 issued in December 2014 requires repeat inspections and possible replacement of movable flap-track fairings on certain A380s. EASA also is considering requiring modification of the cones on rear-fuselage Section 19 for all A380s. In all, the European safety arm issued or proposed six ADs involving the A380 in the last two months of 2014.

Regulators, chiefly European, will undoubtedly be watching the A380 like a hawk in the future, due to its size and prominence. But airlines also will be looking for ways to upgrade the interior of this aircraft to keep passengers happy on longer flights. It would be natural to introduce the latest in passenger conveniences—from inflight entertainment (IFE) and lighting systems to more comfortable seating and catering facilities—on the A380 first.

Heavy checks and line maintenance will cost $730 million and $738 million, respectively, over the five-year period. Line work will rise steadily as the fleet increases, from $114 million in 2015 to $182 million in 2019. For the A380, A checks are required at 750-1,500 flying hours, depending on the program chosen.

In the forecast, heavy checks spurt from $107 million in 2015 to $137 million in 2016, and then recede to $132 million in 2017, before rising again toward $187 million in 2019. Operators have flexibility in scheduling heavy checks on the A380. In a typical schedule, C checks might occur every 24 months. MRO Prospector estimates slightly more than 100 C checks in 2015 and 2016, a dip to 93 in 2017, then 133 and 153 in the last two years of the forecast period. Nearly 600 C checks are expected to be completed by the end of 2019. 

A typical A380-maintenance program would have an intermediate layover with light structural maintenance, primarily focusing on corrosion and zonal inspections, at six years. Called a 3C check, this is more like a traditional D check in scope. For example, it required 55 days for Emirates Engineering to complete its first 3C last November. Full structural work on the A380 can then occur at 12 years as another D-level check.

Counting 3C layovers and the full structural visit, MRO Prospector estimates a total of 122 D-equivalent checks to be performed between 2015-19.

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