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Airbus Delivers Its RFID-Enabled, Next-Generation Aircraft

Airbus' A380 double-decker aircraft, which is the world's largest and seats 555 passengers, will have passive RFID chips on removable parts such as life vests to help ease maintenance processes.

The world's largest commercial jet is finally here. Airbus S.A.S. unveiled Tuesday the A380, one of the most technically advanced aircrafts around. The jet is equipped with 10,000 radio-frequency identification chips and was built using Carbon Fibre Manufacturing technologies to reduce aircraft weight, ultrasonic scanning systems, and a combination of other technologies.

Airbus' A380 double-decker passenger aircraft, which seats 555 passengers, will have passive RFID chips on removable parts such as passenger seats, life vests, and brakes which will aid in maintenance of those parts, Jens Heitmann, senior manager of systems standardization, process, and methods at Airbus, told InformationWeek a few months ago.

The benefits of RFID-tagging airplane parts include reducting the time it takes to generate aircraft-inspection reports, which still require a lot of paperwork, Heitmann says. "We could use RFID to do routine checks before a flight, for example, making sure that a lifejacket is under each seat," Heitmann said.

Airbus began RFID-tagging its ground equipment and tools four years ago and plans to implement similar RFID technology for maintenance and identification of removable parts on the A400M military transport aircraft, according to Heitmann.

The first flight of the Airbus A380 is scheduled in May of this year, Heitmann says. Singapore Airlines will be the first airline to accept the A380 for commercial service in 2006.

The all-cargo version of the aircraft, the A380-800F, will be delivered to FedEx Corp. in 2008. FedEx will be the first operator to receive the aircraft and has 10 firm orders for the A380F, plus options on 10 more, says Airbus. The A380F is capable of carrying a freight load of 150 tons over 10,400 kilometers and will play an important role in connecting FedEx with the North American and Asian markets.

Boeing has a similar commercial jet project in the works. Last April, Boeing launched the 7E7 Dreamliner program, where time-controlled, limited-lifetime parts, and replaceable units have been identified with RFID "smart labels," which consist of a microchip and an antenna and store maintenance and inspection data. This information is useful in maintaining airplanes because the service history of a part is stored on the RFID label as it goes thorough different stages of its life cycle.

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