RENO — The double-decker Airbus A380 new large aircraft is expected to enter commercial service later this year and, as such, was a focal point of the discussion at this year’s Airport Planning, Design & Construction Symposium, which brings together consultants, airports, and government officials. Among the other hot topics: new security initiatives by the Transportation Security Administration and new technologies being developed; security lessons learned at airports since 9/11; and, new larger regional jets entering the marketplace.
The annual symposium is co-hosted by the American Association of Airport Executives and the Airport Consultants Council.
According to Dan Cohen-Nir, the programs director for Airbus North America Holdings, Inc., the A380 is expected to officially enter commercial service by the end of this year, with Singapore Airlines serving as the launch customer. Airbus is preparing to ramp up production to four units per month. It has orders for 159 A380s to date, 27 of which are targeted for cargo-only.
Says Cohen-Nir, “The aircraft was designed for airports.” With the exception of its unusual height, the A380 has very similar dimensions and airfield requirements as the Boeing 747-400. Runway length, he says, needs to be “as good or better than for the 747” and comparable taxiways and ramps don’t require special reinforcement. The A380 can utilize 75-foot wide taxiways, provided shoulders are reinforced. In worldwide tests, says Cohen-Nir, there have been “no pavement loading issues.”
For airports, much of the focus is on handling the aircraft at the gate, from ground handling to passenger loading and unloading. According to Airbus, for ground handling, only two new vehicles are required (tow tractor and an upper deck catering vehicle), and the A380 requires a total equipment count similar to a 747 (21 units versus 19).
The company says that tests show passenger throughput can actually be more efficient than for a 747-400 when using a dual bridge system. Cohen-Nir says that Airbus prefers that airports have one bridge that goes directly to the upper deck — not for Federal Aviation Administration requirements, he says, but for aircraft servicing and customer service. He adds that some international airports now under development are considering adding a third bridge to facilitate turnaround.
Airbus expects that 24 airports will be fully A380-ready by year’s end; by 2010, the company projects that some 67 airports will be ready, 15 of which will be in North America. In the U.S., Los Angeles and San Francisco international airports are expected to first handle commercial A380 operations, in early 2007.
Other questions related to the A380 from Cohen-Nir:
• Noise — “The aircraft is quieter than anything else flying,” he says.
• Thrust — Data shows that there have been no thrust/blast issues on airfields with four engines running. “We haven’t seen any signage problems so far” related to thrust, he says, although tests are ongoing.
• Cost — Cohen-Nir estimates that infrastructure investment at an airport to handle the A380 is averaging some $40 million.
Cases in Point
Meanwhile, Larry Bauman, PE, CM, the Eastern region director for DMJM Aviation, relates the experience of four airports that are in preparation or are planning for the A380:
• At JFK International Airport, the A380 preparation is part of a $147 million airfield infrastructure development. Upon completion, the airport will have four gates that are A380-ready, in Terminals 1 and 4.
• At LAX, A380 preparation is part of an $87 million development program, much of it focused on airfield intersections. Two gates are being made A380-ready. The airport will also have four remote boarding gates specifically for the A380, though Bauman explains the remote handling will bring significant customer service issues.
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