Airports Around the World Prepare for Arrival of Airbus A380

It's the plane of the future, with two floors, elevators and room for in-flight luxuries such as a spa, bar and hair salon.

But don't expect to see it landing at Detroit Metropolitan Airport anytime soon.

The A380 -- more commonly known as the biggest plane ever built -- will change international air travel when it debuts next year.

The double-decker passenger jet, from Airbus SAS, can seat 555 people, but has room for up to 853. The plane's wingspan measures 13 yards shy of a football field. Its tail stands seven stories tall, about the height of the old Cass Technical High School.

Airbus promises nearly 50 percent more floor space on its A380 than on a Boeing 747. The space means airlines can add more leg room and in-flight features such as showers, a nursery, a duty-free shop or a spa.

Airbus unveiled the giant jet Tuesday to a crowd of nearly 5,000 -- including such dignitaries as British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder - in the A380's assembly hangar in Toulouse, France.

"We may have reached for the stars ... but as far as the aeronautical industry is concerned, we caught some of those stars," said Schroeder, who called the A380 a "triumph of European science and European engineering."

The company hopes to sell 750 of its supersized jets, but expects demand for a jet this size to exceed 1,600.

On a full tank, the A380 will carry passengers 5 percent farther than Boeing's longest-range jumbo, Airbus claims, producing costs per passenger that are up to one-fifth below its rival's.

Whether passengers will see spas, casinos and showers on an A380 will be up to individual airlines.

When Lufthansa AG starts flying the first of its 15 A380s in spring 2007, it plans to revamp its first-class area to offer new seats, new entertainment systems and possibly showers.

While Lufthansa flies out of Metro Airport, the Detroit area is not a destination for its A380s, which will fly to North America and Asia from its hubs in Munich and Frankfurt.

Virgin Atlantic Airways Chairman Richard Branson said his airline, which has ordered six A380s, will offer private double beds for first-class passengers and casinos. Virgin's A380s will each seat 500 people and include gyms, bars and hair salons.

A cargo version of the plane is slated for delivery in summer 2008. Takers include Federal Express Corp. and UPS Corp., which both plan to buy 10 planes for, at first, trips to Asia.

As Airbus tests the plane this spring, airports around the world are preparing for its landing.

London's Heathrow Airport says it is spending more than $800 million, providing everything from double-decker passenger ramps to enlarged baggage conveyors capable of processing 555 passengers on one flight.

The FAA requires larger runways and taxiways to accommodate the plane, which JFK International Airport has plans to do in a $120-million project. The airport is also strengthening taxiways over two expressways to handle the A380's weight, which is 1.2 million pounds fully occupied.

Los Angeles International Airport plans to spend more than $53 million by September next year to expand a holding area for passengers, strengthen a runway over a tunnel and widen the taxiways to handle the A380's turns, said Nancy Castles, public relations director for the airport.

O'Hare International Airport in Chicago also plans to expand its taxiways. By the end of 2007, the airport expects an A380 to land once a day, said Annette Martinez, spokeswoman for Chicago's department of aviation.

Two floors of boarding could be part of the airport's plans for a new terminal.

But Metro Airport, at most, is preparing for the possibility of an A380 being diverted from O'Hare.

Metro Airport's dominant carrier, Northwest Airlines Inc., has no plans to buy or lease one.

"The A380 would not be appropriate for Northwest's route network," said Northwest spokesman Thomas Becher.

No other domestic carriers have placed orders for the plane.

"I don't think any airline in the United States right now has any kind of financing power to buy any of these," said Kevin Schorr, research director with Campbell-Hill Aviation Group based in Alexandria, Va.

Still, Metro Airport has a 200-foot wide runway that could handle the plane, but would probably have to expand taxiways for an A380 to get to a gate.

The Wayne County Airport Authority expects to receive an engineering assessment in April detailing what it would need to accommodate an A380, said airport spokesman Michael Conway.

"The airlines here say they have no plans to bring scheduled service here on an A380, however, because of the possibility of diversions ... we feel we need to be proactive on this issue," Conway said.

If Michigan won't see the A380, at least parts made in the state will be inside of the giant plane.

Passengers stepping onto the plane will cross titanium thresholds made in Lansing by Windsor, Conn.-based Barnes Aerospace.

And Cleveland-based Eaton Corp. made miles of tubing and hoses in Jackson that will transport fuel to activate mechanisms including the landing gear.

Loading