LONDON -- Not since the introduction of the Boeing 747 has the commercial aviation world anticipated the arrival of an aircraft. Launched in December 2000, the Airbus A380 is expected to begin test flights in the first quarter of 2005 and enter into passenger airline service in 2006. With each new generation of aircraft comes the necessity of airports to accommodate those airlines that will be flying the new aircraft. As BAA Heathrow's development manager Julie Wynn says, it's a matter of matching the investment of the airlines. Here's what some of the world's leading airports are doing in preparation for the A380.
Airbus S.A.S is an EADS joint company with BAE SYSTEMS. The double decker aircraft with some 555 seats is touted by Airbus as the "most advanced, spacious, and efficient airliner ever conceived."
According to Airbus regional press manager David Velupillai, the aircraft will be 15 to 20 percent more economical per seat to fly than other aircraft currently available. Additionally, the aircraft is designed to be significantly quieter and burn some 13 percent less fuel than competitors. It is not, however, comparing apples to apples. The aircraft will have a range of 8,000nm and weigh some 1,235,000 pounds.
At London's Heathrow International Airport, operated by BAA, planning and construction to accommodate the larger aircraft is well under way. The airport is investing some $845 million (January 2005 dollars) in enhancements to the airport and airfield in expectation of the A380.
A portion of Terminal 3, Pier 6, was demolished and reconfigured. The new three-story structure is 280 meters in length and 20 meters wide. Construction began in April 2004 and is scheduled for completion in December 2005. At a cost of roughly $188 million, the project will include four gates capable of handling the A380. Two of the gates will also provide the option of accommodating either larger aircraft or two medium-sized aircraft. The double decker aircraft will require twin boarding bridges for loading and unloading passengers, which are being manufactured by Thyssens.
The new facility will have 450 seats per gate room as well as a first-class lounge. Plans to allow other terminals at LHR to handle the larger aircraft are currently under development. Terminal 5, the airport's latest and largest addition to be completed in 2008, will include the infrastructure to handle five A380s (four contact gates and one remote). According to officials, by 2011, the new T5 will have a total of 14 gates equipped for the A380.
Ian Gatherum, media relations manager, explains that because of the increased amount of baggage the aircraft will naturally carry, the baggage system being installed in the new construction will also be upgraded. Normally, baggage belts are some 50-60 meters long. The baggage belts that will be installed in Pier 6 will be 75-90 meters in length.
Along with terminal renovations, LHR has widened and strengthened the runway shoulders, as well as upgraded runway lighting. The A380's outer engine position and wider wingspan require a wider taxiway. In comparison, the Boeing 747-400 has a wing span of 211'5"; the A380 measures out at 261'10".
According to Gatherum, Singapore Airlines expects to have the first commercial flight at LHR in 2006. A compatibility flight is scheduled at Heathrow in late 2005.
In advance of the aircraft's arrival, LHR has implemented several training sessions for airport and airline service employees who will be handling the aircraft.
According to Francis Richards, head of airside operational readiness, the Operational Readiness workshops are designed to help airlines operating the A380 to develop procedures for aircraft pushback and towing, de-icing, fueling, catering, baggage handling, cleaning, passenger handling, medical lifts, and fire and emergency response. The workshops began in October 2004 and will run through 2005. Additionally, Heathrow holds quarterly meetings with airlines, ground handlers, and others to ensure preparations are on task.
What leading airports are doing to prepare for arrival of a next-generation aircraft
The stark contrast between San Francisco Int'l Airport and LAX has led to speculation that San Francisco will woo A380 flights away from LAX.
LAX is expected to be the first U.S. destination of an A380 passenger flight next year.