Airbus A380 scrapes wing at Bangkok airport; human error, says Thai Airways

The Airbus A380 superjumbo that kicked off the Hong Kong air show with a demonstration flight on the morning of Monday, 3 September, was originally scheduled to carry out the demonstration flight on Saturday. It couldn't do so, because the aircraft scraped its wingtip on a hangar gate while being towed at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International airport.

It was human error, not unsuitable facilities, that caused the scrape, the president of Thai Airways Apinan Sumanaseni said on 3 September. The plane's left wing suffered minor damage that delayed its planned demonstration flight on Saturday, 1 September, to the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.

Sumanaseni said that there was a "miscommunication" between ground staffers when a truck was used to tow the Airbus - parked outside a hangar - before it headed for a taxiway before takeoff. Earlier, there was speculation that the accident occurred because the facilities at Suvarnabhumi Airport could not accommodate an A380.

"The hangar was designed for the A380," he said. "We do not need to adjust the accommodation but will have to train the staff be more cautious when handling the plane at the hangar." Thai Airways has ordered six A380s, which are expected to be delivered in 2010.

Since opening in September last year, the $3.8 billion (€2.8 billion) Suvarnabhumi Airport - intended to be Southeast Asia's leading air transportation hub - has seen a host of widely publicized problems, including cracks in taxiways, a shortage of toilets, dozens of design flaws and a long list of corruption allegations.

In Saturday's incident, the plane's left winglet was slightly damaged. Engineers removed both winglets before the flight took off. A winglet improves aerodynamic efficiency, but is not essential for flight.

From Bangkok, the plane went to Hanoi, Vietnam, and then to Hong Kong, where it flew a demonstration flight on Monday, before being placed on display for the Asia air shows. Airbus Chief Commercial Officer John Leahy said that a new set of winglets had been shipped to Hong Kong and was to be installed before another demonstration flight on Tuesday, 4 September. He said that the plane was being towed with its engines shut off when the accident occurred in Thailand, and the plane's pilots were not to blame.

The plane will fly to South Korea on Wednesday to complete its Asian tour before returning to Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France. Airbus says its demonstration tours are meant to help prepare the A380 for a "smooth entry into service".

It said 14 customers have placed orders to buy a total of 173 A380s, including Singapore Airlines, Emirates Airlines, Qantas and Thai Airways. Airbus is scheduled to deliver its first A380 to Singapore Airlines on 15 October, after a delay of more than a year owing to production problems.