Airbus A380
Every Airbus A380 in operation will be inspected for wing cracks. Reuters

Air safety regulators in Europe ordered inspections of the entire fleet of Airbus A380 jets on Wednesday after numerous reports of tiny cracks in a wing component.

The move extended a directive that had applied to just a third of the 68 superjumbos in service.

The decision to inspect all A380s in service came as Qantas grounded one of its planes, claiming engineers had found 36 wing cracks after the aircraft encountered severe turbulence. One of Qantas' 12 A380s, that aircraft had not come under the scope of the European Aviation Safety Agency's previous order, which was issued last month.

In the new directive, EASA said of the Airbus cracks: This condition, if not detected and corrected, may lead to reduction of the structural integrity of the airplane.

The four-engine aircraft, manufactured by Airbus (a subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company), saw its maiden flight in April 2005 and was introduced into the commercial market in October 2007. By far the largest passenger jet in the skies, it offers nearly 50 percent more floor space than rival Boeing Company's BA 747-400.

In total, 68 Airbus A380s are in use across the globe on seven airlines: Emirates, Air France, Lufthansa, Korean Airlines, China Southern, Qantas and Singapore Airlines.

The planes hold 525 passengers in a typical three-class arrangement.

EASA spokesman Dominique Fouda said Wednesday that all seven airlines currently operating the A380 would be required to inspect their planes for the hairline fissures within the next few weeks.

Previous orders had applied only to the most heavily used planes in the fleet, described as those that had flown more than 1,300 take-off and landing cycles since first entering into service in 2007. Inspectors initially focused on just 20 aircraft operated by Singapore Airlines, Air France, and Dubai's Emirates.

The Airbus cracks came to light last year with two types identified in L-shaped brackets that connect the aluminum skin of the A380's giant wings to its structural ribs. There are a total of 2,000 eight-inch brackets on each wing with about 40 brackets on each rib.

Airbus has repeatedly described the cracks as minor, saying that while the brackets need to be replaced, they did not pose any imminent safety risks. Last month, the aircraft maker said it had traced the problem to a manufacturing process that has since been amended.

Aviation watchdog EASA laid out a timeline for inspections on Wednesday. A380s that have flown more than 1,384 flights will need inspections within three weeks of Feb. 13. Those with between 1,216 and 1,384 will need to be seen within six weeks of that date, and planes with fewer than 1,216 recorded flights will be inspected at the next routine maintenance interval.

The cracking problems comes at a bad time for Airbus as it tries to sell new customers on the aircraft and ward off Boeing, which recently unveiled the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental. The 747-8 took its maiden flight in February 2010.

Boeing is also grappling with its own troubles, including minor defects on its 787 Dreamliner. Most analysts agree that both plane makers are just going through some teething troubles with their new aircraft.

There are currently 253 A380 jets on order for carriers across the globe.