Stored Airbus A380 Evacuation Slides are Splitting at the Seams
EASA has issued an airworthiness directive mandating the replacement of some of the slides on Airbus A380s coming out of storage.
As more airlines seek to return their stored Airbus A380s to useful service, some are noticing a problem. Superjumbos that have been parked up for extended periods of time are presenting with damage to the evacuation slides, of which the A380 has many.
In all, Airbus A380s have a total of 16 evacuation slides – three on the upper deck and five on the lower, on both sides of the airplane. It is the three upper deck slides that are causing a problem, as well as the ‘M3’ slide, which runs from the overwing emergency exit down to the ground.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has issued an airworthiness directive (AD), effective November 15th, mandating replacement of the parts. According to EASA, and first reported by AeroTELEGRAPH, some of the slides on the A380 are splitting at the seams. This is considered to be an effect of long-term storage in hot conditions, as the directive explains:
“Occurrences were reported where, during overhaul of Airbus A380 emergency slides after return to service following a parking and storage period, local seams opened during inflation. Although the investigation is on-going, it is suspected that the environmental conditions during parking and storage are the key contributing factors to the degradation of the slide seams.
“In particular, exposure to a combination of moisture (from condensation during previous flight operations) and heat (during parking and storage) causes a degradation of seams in the inflatable structure of a slide, increasing with the parking and storage time of the respective slide on an aeroplane.”
Parking aircraft in hotter climates is seen to be a huge benefit in preventing the deterioration of the structure. That’s why we’ve seen so many A380s stored at sites like Teruel in Spain, Alice Springs in Australia, and the Mojave Desert in the US. While the climate has likely saved degradation of the aircraft, it seems the opposite has been true for the evacuation slides.
Mitigating measures required
EASA states that it is only the six upper slides and the M3 slide on each side that require attention – door-mounted slides have not been affected in the same way. However, due to the serious nature of the implications of a non-functional evacuation slide, EASA has demanded the replacement of the slides within specified time periods.
The longer the A380 has been stored, the more urgent the replacement of the slides becomes. For example, an upper slide on an A380 that has been stored for more than 186 days but less than 350 days only needs replacing within eight months of the AD. An airplane that has been stored for more than 600 days should have its slide replaced within three months.
EASA further notes the seriousness of the issue, stating that,
“This condition, if not corrected, could lead to a loss of air holding capability of a slide which, in case of an emergency, would prevent timely evacuation from the aeroplane, possibly resulting in injury to occupants.”
Tracking the return of the A380
There was a point in the pandemic when many fans of the Airbus A380 feared it would never return, at least not in any livery but Emirates’. While some fleets have disappeared for good, and others are on their way out, the recovery for the world’s biggest passenger plane has been significant over the past year.
According to Cirium, flights using the A380 are up 125% this November compared with the same period in 2021, and are up 1,248% compared to November 2020. Overall, the numbers are still down 46% on pre-pandemic levels, but it’s a massive change from the lowest point – in July 2020, just 43 flights were operated with the superjumbo.
Unsurprisingly, the route with the most Airbus A380 services is London Heathrow to Dubai, with Emirates holding a 69% share of global A380 services. However, British Airways is the second-largest operator, with 450 superjumbo flights this month. In total, nine airlines have operated the A380 so far this year, including Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways and Qantas.