Denver Would Need Improvements to Handle the A380

The new Airbus A380 double-decker super-jumbo jet could land at Denver International Airport should an airline choose to fly it here, airport officials say.

Airbus and German airline Lufthansa have been eager to show off the plane, which can seat 550 passengers. They debuted it this month by landing in New York, Chicago, Washington and Los Angeles. The tour will end Wednesday in Munich, Germany.

Denver was not on the U.S. itinerary, but before the jets could land on a regular basis, the airport would require improvements on the airfield and in the concourse at a cost of $13.8 million.

"We'd have to make improvements to the jetway system," said DIA spokesman Chuck Cannon. "We'd have to add a second deck - we could do that for pretty minimal cost."

Improvements would include another jetway on the mezzanine level for double-decker loading.

Taxiway shoulders would need to be widened and signs would need to be moved, which could be done for about $9 million. Upgrading the passenger-loading bridges on two gates would cost about $4.8 million, according to DIA and a U.S. Government Accountability Office report last year. The work would take about 18 months.

Aside from the airport, any airline that wanted to fly the A380 here may have its own infrastructure issues to consider, Cannon said.

"If you've got a plane coming in with 500 or more passengers on it, obviously that's going to present issues with checking all those people in and collecting all their baggage when they get here," he said. It could also add to the traffic handled by customs at DIA.

For all of the hoopla surrounding the A380's landing in the United States, no U.S. airline has yet ordered the super-jumbo jet.

Lufthansa, which serves DIA, has ordered 15 A380s. It expects the first to be delivered in the summer of 2009.

The German carrier hasn't announced plans to fly the A380s on its Denver-Frankfurt route or the new Denver-Munich route, which will begin March 31. The Denver-Frankfurt, Germany, route would be more likely because the planes will be based in Frankfurt, said Munich Airport chief executive Michael Kerkloh.

"But in the long run, Denver-Munich A380 is certainly an option," he said. "It depends on the growth of the market."

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said the super-jumbo jet caters to "more of a European view."

"The approach that Southwest and American carriers have taken over the past 20, 30 years has been more oriented to frequency and convenient flight times as opposed to having one big giant flight," he said. "I think if you have constrained capacity, the bigger airlines might make some kind of sense. But the fact of the matter is we'll get more traffic if we offer you more flights during the day as opposed to offering bigger airplanes at fewer times during the day."

Boeing's new 787, which can seat about 210-330 passengers, is better suited for that kind of service, he said.

DIA officials and a delegation of civic leaders visiting Munich this week for the launch of Lufthansa's new Denver-Munich flight are set to tour the A380 when it's at Munich Airport.

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