Test programme and certification
Before reaching series production, Airbus aircraft programmes undergo a complex, rigorous flight test and certification campaign. Once approved and certified, the aircraft is cleared for take-off for the entirety of its lifetime.
focus on A380: structural static tests
The A380’s structural static tests on began in November 2004, in preparation for the first flight clearance.
The tests included: Flight Test Installation (FTI) calibration test, maximum wing bending at limit load, ailerons and spoilers functioning test during max wing bend, fuselage pressure test, and fatigue tests and flight cycles simulation.
Fatigue testing examines how the aircraft structure responds to stress over a long period of time and during different stages of its operations, such as taxiing on the runway, take-off, cruising and landing.
To re-create these conditions, a combination of loads is placed on the airframe and activated by 184 computer-operated hydraulic jacks. The A380’s fatigue testing lasted 26 months up and was conducted to 2.5 times the design service goal.
Testing accumulated a total of 47,500 flight cycles: 2.5 times the number of flights that an A380 would make in 25 years of operations. A 16-hour flight was simulated in just 11 minutes. The tests pushed the aircraft structure to its limits to identify any necessary design improvements.
Final test and preparation for flight is a phase that includes calibration of the gauges, cabin pressurisation testing, and testing of navigation systems.
A380 flight test campaign
The A380’s first flight on 27 April 2005 marked the beginning of the aircraft’s flight test campaign. The campaign called for approximately 2,500 hours of test flights on a total of five development aircraft to achieve certification by European and US airworthiness authorities with both engine types offered on the aircraft:
the Rolls Royce Trent 900 and The Engine Alliance’s GP7200.
The flight test campaign was designed to assess the A380’s general handling qualities, operational performance, airfield noise emission and systems operation in normal mode, failure scenarios and extreme conditions. For extreme weather trials, Airbus flew test aircraft from Northern Canada to the desert heat of the Gulf and hot and high altitudes of Ethiopia and Colombia. During the entire test phase, the A380 yielded excellent results and in many cases surpassed its design targets.
Further certification flight testing was dedicated to water ingestion trials, low speed take-off tests, flutter and rejected take off and landing. In addition to the wake vortex trials - air turbulence created behind the aircraft at take off - required for certification, Airbus performed and continues to perform an extensive series of tests and measurements in this area. These additional tests were designed to gather data in support of recommendations by the A380 Wake Vortex Steering Group made to the International Civil Aviation Organization with regards to safe wake vortex runway separation criteria for aircraft following an A380 in various flight conditions.
Airbus’ test A380 (MSN001, the first A380 built) is equipped with heavy instrumentation to test the flight envelope, handling qualities, systems and performances.
Certification is a regulatory obligation. All aircraft, their engines and propellers are certifiable. The ‘Type Certificate’ is followed by the ‘Airworthiness Certificate’.
The certification process covers the complete development process of a new aircraft. It includes various phases:
Detailed design review,
- Test review and participation in laboratory,
- Test review and participation in flight,
- ...and is designed to take into account modifications in light of the results.
- Aircraft operators – especially launch companies - are closely involved in design definition, development and service introduction.
The competent authorities in each geographical jurisdiction control the certification process. Today, the two main aircraft certification systems are:
- For the United States, the FAR 25 regulations,
- For the European Union, the JAR 25 regulations,
Each authority has the right to require specific conditions: an aircraft manufacturer must always plan in advance for aircraft certification by importing countries.
The A380’s certification flight test programme was one of the most extensive in Airbus’ history. The campaign began with the aircraft’s first flight on 27 April 2005 and ended on 30 November the following year with the successful around-the-world technical route-proving trip, which took the aircraft over both poles, testing its performance under normal airline operations.
Certification by the two major international governing bodies – the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – was granted upon successful completion of a stringent trial programme which pushed the airframe and aircraft systems well beyond design limits to ensure the A380 meets – or even exceeds – all airworthiness criteria. The A380 was the first aircraft to which 21st century certification standards were applied.
Five aircraft were involved in the intensive flight test programme, four of which have Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines and one is powered by Engine Alliance GP7200 engines. By certification, the test fleet had accumulated over 2,600 flight hours in 800 flights, with over 80 airline and certification pilots having flown the aircraft. During the campaign, the A380 was also welcomed at 38 airports around the world, proving its easy airport acceptance and compatibility.
Overall, the initial A380s accumulated some 5,000 hours aloft in all aspects of the flight test and development programme.
The cabin also underwent a series of tests for certification, including the successful evacuation test, performed at Airbus’ Hamburg site on 26 March 2006. During what was the largest ever aircraft evacuation trial, 853 passengers and 20 crew members left the aircraft within 78 seconds - 12 seconds less than required, validating 853 as the maximum passenger seating capacity for the A380-800.
In addition to flight test success, further highlights of the A380’s entry into service included airport compatibility trials, with a total of 38 airports visited around the globe demonstrating the aircraft’s ability to operate just like existing large aircraft.
Although not required for certification, but part of Airbus’ commitment to smooth entry into service, Airbus undertook a series of four Early Long Flights in September 2006 where over 2,000 Airbus employees took part to assess the cabin environment and systems in flight.
These followed a 15-hour Virtual Long Flight conducted during May 2006 in Hamburg, where 474 Airbus employees tested cabin systems in simulated long-haul conditions.