Five Years and Counting
By Richard Rowe
Now that Airbus has announced a 2006 service entry date for its new A380 aircraft, the ground support world has a definite timetable in which to prepare, writes Richard Rowe.
The most exciting new development in aviation in 30 years was sealed last December when those perennial show stealers, Virgin Atlantic, committed to buying the new Airbus A380. Virgin’s decision to become the sixth launch customer of the new "super-jumbo" ensured that Airbus had secured the all-important 50 orders to begin production of the aircraft.
The countdown to the arrival of a three-deck passenger aircraft capable of carrying 555 passengers actually began some time ago. Not since the arrival of the Boeing 747 in the late 1960s has the industry been faced with such a quantum leap forward in air travel, and not since the arrival of that aircraft has the industry rolled up its collective sleeves in preparation.
Airbus has been careful to develop an aircraft that is attractive to airlines in the air and poses minimum problems on the ground. While Boeing dropped out of the race to build a triple deck aircraft citing lack of market demand and opted instead for the B747X family (due in 2005, but with no takers as yet), Airbus was convinced of the need for such an aircraft.
The A380 is unlikely to dominate the skies like B-747s, but looks set to become a regular feature on the world’s busiest routes, such as Los Angeles to Hong Kong and London to New York City.
Airbus knew that for the A380 to fly, its introduction had to be as seamless as possible. The company clicked into marketing overdrive, touting the A380 as the cost-effective solution to solving growing traffic congestion at major hubs.
On offer, says Airbus, is an environmentally friendly aircraft with reduced noise levels and 20 percent lower fuel burn. Compared with its closest rival from Boeing, Airbus also claims 17 percent lower cash operating costs for the passenger version and 30 percent lower operating costs per ton transported on long distances for the freighter version.
Industry partnership has been a feature of the aircraft’s development. "I can cite many cases where we adapted the design according to airlines’ feedback during our many working sessions," explains Philippe Jarry, Vice President, Market Development, Large Aircraft Division.
"Examples include guidance from Air France, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, and Emirates that led us to change the form of the upper deck to better meet their requirements," he says. "Another, was advice that resulted in an increase in cargo volume based on the airlines’ operational needs."
Three of these airlines--Air France, Singapore Airlines, and Qantas--have since become launch customers, joined by Emirates, Virgin, International Lease Finance Corporation and, most recently, FedEx Express for the first freighter version of the aircraft.
Keen to avoid the lack of ground preparations that Airbus believes marred the entry into service of the B747, Airbus has long operated a dedicated airport and infrastructure department within its A380 engineering team.
"We started to talk with the industry in 1995," Yves Lemoigne, Ground Operations Manager, Airbus told GSE Today. "This included the various heads of planning at airports and the GSE industry."
Airbus claims that the A380 requires no new infrastructure or major alterations to airports and has worked closely with 60 or so major airports around the world. The aircraft fits into an 80 x 80 meter box to allow gate parking--dimensions that the Airports Council International (ACI) Technical and Safety Committee suggested as a size that would keep the cost of adapting existing infrastructure reasonable.
Airbus also stuck to International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) requirements for a new category of aircraft (Code F) created for the next generation of super jumbos with wingspans from 65 to 80 meters.
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