The Airbus A380

The blaze of publicity has been on the size and capacity of the Airbus A380. Now comes the reality check as this giant rolls up to the gate, by Steve Bowman.

The publicity machine, an enterprise that just about matches the size of the aircraft itself, has covered just about every thing you will need to know about the Airbus A380. The 16 customers, who have signed up with 159 firm orders, at the time of writing, will be using at last count a total of about 60 airports on a scheduled basis.

Each of these airports has a long and expensive list of special requirements specific to handling an aircraft of this size on a regular basis. Everyone knew it was happening, everyone has had the statistics in front of them but not everyone has made the investment in infrastructure, handling facilities and training—yet. When you apply the measuring tape to the airport plans, a wingspan of 79.8 m [261 ft 8 in] will probably hang over the edges of most runways and taxiways creating a FOD danger to the outside engines from grass or sand.

Move the template to the terminal and at best it will be a tight squeeze if, as is very likely, the terminal building has been designed to accommodate other wide bodied aircraft. The length at 73 m [239 ft 3 in] is less of a problem, but height at 24.1 m [79 ft 7 in] and weight will cause some serious calculations.

These are all issues that have been taking up every waking hour of teams of people across the world for the past couple of years. In the last few months it has come down to a reality check for a handful of airports, carriers and Airbus as the aircraft was rolled out and airport compatibility tests began.

Frankfurt was the first of these tests. On October 29th of 2005 an expectant crowd gathered to see the A380 touch down, taxi in and hitch to a terminal.

Lufthansa will be the second largest A380 customer and Dr. Joachin Schneider has been appointed early in the time line as Vice President with the specific role of handling the A380 entry into service for the carrier. Fraport’s investment up to this point had been significant, the budget was $193.7 million. The team also included LSG Sky Chefs and Lufthansa Technik. Frankfurt will be handling at least 10 arrivals a day by 2010 and is building a dedicated A380 maintenance hanger, so the focus on Frankfurt is intense. At the end of the day, all reports were positive. The planning had paid off with German precision. Prototypes of a more powerful tug and a new design in catering vehicle that is designed to reach the 2 level loading position were put through their paces.

Airbus undertook a major Asia Pacific tour in November 2005 and made house calls on their other big-ticket customers Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Malaysian. The trip was delayed slightly and the itinerary changed to Singapore, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and back via Kuala Lumpur and Dubai hub for Emirates, the largest customer.

Airport compatibility testing was undertaken only in Singapore, Melbourne and Dubai; the other stop-overs were publicity calls only. Prototype F-WWOW certainly had the wow factor all along the way. Shell Aviation Singapore had the first real chance to test the refueling operations. The A380 incidentally carries 310,000 liters [81,890 gallons]. Shell Aviation’s Walter Seah reports that all went according to plan. The underwing refueling ports are 5.9 metres from the ground, well beyond the reach of normal hydrant dispensers.

Two new scissors platform dispensers were used on the test. Shell Aviation at Changi had started a redesign program back in 2003 and the equipment is now being progressively introduced. They deployed not only the added height available but also gave the fuel rate gauge a work out at close to a combined 6,000 liters per minute. Just as a comparison, a B737 will be refueled by one dispenser at about 1,000 liters a minute.

Having made the quantum leap from theory to the practical, ground support crews are getting a handle on just how much extra effort will be involved in an A380 turn around. All those 555 passengers to process, luggage and freight, catering and cleaning the list goes on and on.

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