Los Angeles officials lashed out Wednesday at Airbus, saying the European airplane maker reneged on a promise to bring its new A380 jetliner to Los Angeles International Airport on its first U.S. test flight.
Airport officials called on Airbus to reconsider a recent decision to have the A380 -- the world's largest passenger jet -- touch down in New York next month on its first U.S. visit.
Airbus told Los Angeles World Airports officials last year that it would bring the A380 to LAX on its maiden U.S. flight if the airport expedited construction of a $9-million gate to accommodate the 555-seat jetliner.
That flight initially was set for August 2006, but the plane has experienced technical problems, forcing Airbus to delay deliveries to airlines.
The flight to LAX is now planned for June. LAX officials said they recently learned that Airbus had decided to fly the A380 from Frankfurt, Germany, to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on March 19. It will go to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport the next day. The jet will fly from Frankfurt to Dulles International Airport in Washington on March 25.
"We are taken aback, to put it mildly, that Airbus is not living up to its commitment to have the A380 touch down at LAX first," Paul Haney, deputy executive director of airports and security for Los Angeles World Airports, wrote in an e-mail Wednesday to Allan McArtor, chairman of Airbus North America. "We, in sharp contrast, have lived up to our commitment to you."
An Airbus spokesman said it was impossible for Airbus to bring the super-jumbo jet to Los Angeles before its flights to New York and O'Hare and that LAX would get the first "Airbus-operated U.S. visit" in June.
LAX officials were counting on using the occasion of the A380's first U.S. visit to help boost the image of the outdated airport and its oft-criticized facilities.
McArtor told The Times last year that he would bring the A380 to Los Angeles on its maiden U.S. test flight if plans for gate modifications at the Tom Bradley International Terminal were expedited.
Airlines that have ordered A380s and have flights to LAX also were under the impression that its first American stop would be in Los Angeles.
"We were led to believe the plans were in place to get the first aircraft here in June as a proving flight," said Wally Mariani, a senior executive vice president for Qantas Airways, which currently hopes to make the first commercial A380 flight into LAX in August 2008.
Los Angeles officials had planned a media extravaganza to welcome the first A380 test flight, hoping it would give a public relations boost to LAX.
Airbus said Wednesday that it decided to take the A380 to JFK and O'Hare at the request of Lufthansa Airlines, whose crews have helped the manufacturer test the aircraft's evacuation plans and other procedures.
But a Lufthansa spokeswoman said that Airbus "is in charge ... they are operationally responsible for these flights."
The German carrier said the March flights would enable it to test for the first time catering for 500 passengers, as well as air-conditioning, lighting, acoustics and entertainment systems.
"We're thrilled we'll have the opportunity to be the first to fly the A380 to the U.S.," said Jennifer Urbaniak, communications manager for Lufthansa North America.
In Los Angeles, Airbus and many of the 15 international carriers that have purchased the behemoth repeatedly have criticized LAX for moving too slowly to improve its facilities.
Los Angeles World Airports expects to spend about $121 million by 2009 to ready the airport for the A380, which carries at least 140 more passengers than a Boeing 747, currently the largest passenger jet in service.
Despite the upgrades to LAX, carriers are still concerned that the airport won't have enough gates to support multiple A380 flights. By 2010, LAX is expected to handle more A380 operations than any airport in North America.
LAX isn't giving up its pursuit of the A380's first U.S. landing. Haney told McArtor in his e-mail that, unless Airbus changed its plans, the airport agency would reassess its commitment to "support a history-making visit of your aircraft to LAX."
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