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SYDNEY/SEOUL (Reuters) - Qantas Airways and Korean Air will carry out inspections for wing cracks on their Airbus A380 superjumbo planes earlier than previously scheduled, after European air safety officials ordered global checks, warning of a safety risk if the defects were not fixed.
Singapore Airlines has been carrying out precautionary inspections of its A380s since January 20 and has been forced to repair eight aircraft, the airline said.
"The safety of our customers and crew is our number one priority and we will ensure that we take whatever action is needed for the continued safe operation of our A380 fleet," Singapore Airlines said on Thursday
Australia's Qantas Airways has already grounded one A380 for a week after discovering 36 separate wing cracks after a turbulent flight from London.
Despite the ongoing news of defects in the world's largest passenger plane, air travelers continued to repose trust in the aircraft, the airline and a ticketing agency said.
"The A380 is still our most popular aircraft and we have not seen any impact on ticket sales. These things happen with various aircraft. There are no broader concerns about the A380 now," said a Qantas spokesman.
Australia's arm of global travel company Flight Centre Ltd, said it was unaware of any shift in customer sentiment away from A380s or airlines with A380s.
"There's certainly nothing that we've become aware of," said spokesman Haydn Long.
The European Air Safety Agency (EASA) said the widespread A380 defects could pose a safety risk in the world's biggest passenger plane if left unremedied.
"This condition, if not detected and corrected, may lead to a reduction of the structural integrity of the aeroplane," the EU agency said in its directive to airlines.
While aviation experts agree the wing cracks are minor defects, of more concern is the fact that the problems are arising so early in the life of the $390 million, 525-seater aircraft, which went into commercial service in 2007.
Under the new directive, first reported by Reuters earlier on Wednesday, the seven airlines currently operating A380s must carry out Airbus-sanctioned checks and preliminary repairs on every plane before its 1,300th flight.
The first round of checks covered one third of the fleet and applied only to jets that had exceeded that number of flights.
South Korea said on Thursday it would order Korean Air to carry out checks on its five A380 planes, but gave no timetable for the inspections.
Qantas said the first mandatory inspection was due within six weeks, with a further two scheduled later in the year.
The airline said it had the capability to carry out the inspections in Australia, but had not yet finalized the inspection schedule or location.
Qantas has 12 A380s in its fleet, with the latest checks occurring well before the 1,300 flight cycle is reached.
"We've been calling for the fleet to be grounded so that the aircraft can be checked immediately. What they've put in place to day is far better than the four-year wait that we were going to have to have," said Steven Purvinas, federal secretary of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association.
"It's going to be an expensive exercise to repair the aircraft. But at the end of the day, you can't continue flying around planes with cracks in the wing," he told Reuters.
The cracks are on L-shaped parts which fix the wing skins to their underlying frame. The parts are "not a primary load-bearing structure," Airbus spokesman Stefan Schaffrath said.
"All new aircraft are likely to experience a few teething problems in their first few years of service," said Peter Marosszeky from the School of Aviation at the University of New South Wales in Australia.
"The types of cracks they are reporting are not of great concern and it is unlikely they would progress to the level where they would become a danger."
The first round of A380 inspections had initially focused on 20 aircraft operated by Singapore Airlines, Air France and Dubai's Emirates -- which had logged the most A380 flights in the four years since the plane entered service.
They will now be carried out on all other airlines that fly the A380s -- Qantas, China Southern, Korean Air and Lufthansa.
China Southern said its two A380 jets have been flying the Beijing-Guangzhou routes, four flights each day, and it has no immediate plans to take them out of service for the checks.
Lufthansa's longest-serving A380 has made about 900 flights and the company said it could carry out checks during normal maintenance.
The global A380 inspection order will refocus attention on faults found in flagship jets from the world's dominant aircraft makers. Boeing and Airbus, a division of European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co., maintain their newest planes are safe to fly after problems were caught early.
Boeing this week reported a manufacturing flaw on its 787 Dreamliner, the world's first commercial jet built mostly from composites, nine weeks after entry into service.
Asian airlines are big buyers of the Boeing 787.
Writing by Michael Perry; Additional reporting by Yan Fang in Beijing and James Grubel in Canberra; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan