Composites Raise Questions For A380

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One-quarter of the huge new Airbus A380 will be built from various composites and advanced materials -- 22 percent carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic, and 3 percent "glare," a glass fiber-aluminum laminate, which is being used for the first time on a civil airliner. These materials, and the expectations that their use will increase (Boeing's 787 will be built almost entirely of composites) and that more very large airliners will be built, has raised questions at the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). "We're concerned about the capability of operators to conduct non-destructive testing (NDT) of these materials," said Dave Hayes, of ALPA's A380 Project Team. "If you hit them with a catering truck, which happens all the time in the real world, what have you damaged?" Hayes said ALPA is interested in what NDT methods are going to be assigned to the operator, and which are relegated to the manufacturer, and under what rules. "These are questions we're going to be asking other manufacturers who intend to use composite materials in their airplanes. Some of these materials are fairly exotic and require using sophisticated imaging techniques for NDT." Hayes said that regarding American Airlines Flight 587 -- the A300 that crashed in Belle Harbor, N.Y., in November 2001 -- "some aviation safety experts think that the airplane might have been weakened by a previous, documented encounter with severe turbulence."