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.

From Singapore the A380 headed for Australia. Qantas was celebrating their 85th anniversary and the aircraft was the center of the party plan with fly-overs and extensive media coverage.

But it was in Melbourne that the sleeves were rolled up and some serious testing got under way. The airport had completed a $50 million upgrade and widening of the main north/south runway by 15 meters. It spent another $220 million on two stand-off bays and terminal extensions with duel level aerobridges on two gates. Melbourne was ready when the aircraft parked at Gate 9 as scheduled on the 15th of November. An estimated 35,000 locals visited the airport for a look during its two-day stop-over.

Qantas had a finely tuned test schedule with a team of senior engineers and operations people making copious notes and timings. A large and confidential report has been completed by all accounts. Melbourne Airport senior staff and A380 project leader, Sarah Renner, breathed a huge sigh of relief as the monstrous silhouette lifted off into the cloudless sky.

Two years of hard work paid off. With five aircraft now built and flying, the Airbus development program is in full swing.

Airbus sees their market as not only the airlines and lease companies who will buy this aircraft but also the public who will buy the seats provided. The concept of an aircraft carrying that many people must be carefully promoted and TV specials and print supplements on the design, manufacture and testing have all been ready for launch as the first aircraft were rolled out for flight. If you were not excited and ready to be amazed you probably work for Boeing.

The A380 has been a hot topic in the industry for years and provides a product differential between the two largest manufacturers. It has polarized the aviation buffs throughout the industry. For the first time since the B747 came into service, airports and ground handling facilities and service providers have had to make changes, modify designs and plan to accommodate a new aircraft type.

The investment has been and will continue to be enormous for all concerned, so the rewards had better be spectacular. Time will tell, but in the interim there is work to be done on the ground and the A380 will keep a lot of people who read this magazine busy, not as busy as you would be if you were in Toulouse perhaps but it will be on the agenda for a couple more years.

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