The Superjumbo – grounded by… cables…

Network managers should take solace in the plight of the A380 and its cabling woes.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  October 29, 2007

Last week saw the first commercial flight of the plane that's variously known as the Superjumbo and the Whalejet - the Airbus A380. After many years of planning, design, testing, construction, more testing, more design, more construction, consultation, airport redesigns and some final tweaking, the largest passenger plane in the world is now in service.

Sadly, what it's now most famous for is being two years late, and thus garnering the ire of airlines, shareholders and governments for Airbus. But what caused this massive delay? What could possibly be so critical and complex to hold up a project of this size for 24 months? Was it a flawed wing design, structural problems, fuel consumption issues?

No - it was cables. It seems, somewhere between the original planning stages, and discussions with the airlines as to how to configure the planes, no one realised quite how complex - and heavy - the cabling systems would have to be in a plane that can seat up to 800 people.

This isn't down to overly-complex avionics, though - the real culprits are the increasingly-demanding in-seat entertainment systems, as pioneered by carriers such as Emirates. The Dubai airline's latest ICE system now offers 600 channels of widescreen entertainment - and with pressure coming from every other airline in the world, this is no doubt going to improve.

But the problem with offering hundreds - maybe thousands - of channels of high-quality video, as well as in-seat satellite calling, e-mail, and possibly web browsing in the near future, is that all of this requires a hefty network infrastructure to run on.

There are a number of theories about what the specific problems Airbus has faced actually are, but some speculate that the sheer number of cables going into each plane has not only made installation a nightmare, but also caused problems physically fitting the cables in to the internal runways.

It is, of course, inexcusable for Airbus not to anticipate the demands of its customers, and suggests a distinct lack of effective planning and specification on the plane maker's part. But having said that, it is also revealing that the problem came thanks to cables.

It should also offer some small consolation - if not hope - to network managers operating in more mundane locations such as office buildings. If a company such as Airbus can create the largest civil aircraft ever to fly, only to be scuppered by too much wire, then the problems network managers face when anticipating demand are small potatoes in comparison.

On the other hand, perhaps the lesson for network professionals is that, as with all areas in IT, cabling is subject to the same laws of demand oustripping supply, however much supply there is. Yes, it seems it is true - you can never have too many cables.

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