Despite such efforts, however, there are few airports capable of supporting the aircraft with little or no alternations to present infrastructure (Hong Kong, the new Inchon Airport in Korea and London Stansted are notable exceptions).
Clearly, major hubs wanting to remain competitive will have to dig deep (see box story) to fund modifications to stands, taxiways, and fixed terminal infrastructure (such as passenger loading bridges and baggage handling systems.
Fortunately, fewer changes than people might think are required on the ramp. Airbus also highlights commonality of GSE where possible--also a major selling point for Boeing with its 747X family--and the industry does not expect the aircraft to herald a revolution in GSE requirements.
However, some changes are required to accommodate a maximum takeoff weight of nearly 600 tons (1.5 million pounds), and greater deck heights (up to 8.5 meters or 335 inches). Although launch date is five years off--and exact specifications for the A380 have yet to be published--the time is now for GSE manufacturers to start planning.
As Lemoigne explains, Airbus has essentially developed the passenger version of the A380 to be handled with existing GSE. It can be handled almost like a B-747 since both passenger decks on the A380 can be boarded through the main deck and passengers (as well as catering) can reach the upper deck using stairs.
Clearly, it would be more efficient to serve the upper deck of the aircraft directly, and the debate began some time ago about how best to load passengers, catering, and cargo to different decks.
According to Lemoigne, Airbus is currently looking at upper deck airbridge designs from manufacturers such as TEAM, FMT, Norgate, and Thyssen Henschel.
"If an airport does not provide facilities for double deck boarding such as double deck gates, or at least jetways that can reach the upper deck, then the ground handling community must look into the acquisition of new and special equipment to speed up the turnaround process," believes Thomas Schubert, General Manager, Quality Systems at GlobeGround.
Lufthansa, the parent and a customer of GlobeGround’s, has not committed to this or any other larger aircraft in the future, but the ground handler still needs to look carefully at handling procedures for the A380 for when serving other customers around the world.
"For an A380 push out, a new towbarless tow tractor will be necessary. If A380s are not handled at the terminal building, larger apron buses, wider stairs or stairs that reach the upper deck, and larger capacity toilet/water trucks will certainly help in a quick turnaround process," says Schubert. "For unloading/loading of an A380 Freighter, new upper deck loading equipment is mandatory.
"We will need to calculate the costs for the acquisition of this [additional] equipment very carefully."
In February, Lemoigne hosted a working group in Toulouse at which launch airline customers explored design possibilities for serving the upper deck of the aircraft, including an internal lift system and a new type of high lift truck to service the upper deck. "We have now agreed on catering equipment needs with the airlines and have put out a request for proposal," explains Lemoigne. "Airlines have asked for proposals to be sent to specific suppliers." Proposals have been requested for March/April, and Lemoigne believes that the working group will reconvene in November.
The recurrent theme when Lemoigne talks of GSE is one of conventional equipment will do the job, but new equipment is better. He believes that conventional tractors could handle the A380, but feels that as the industry continues to move more towards towbarless models, changes will be needed to accommodate maximum nose wheel widths of 1.73 meters (67 inches).
While manufacturers generally are none too keen to share their development plans at this stage, it can be safely said that engineering teams are working overtime. TLD, for one, is working with Airbus on a towbarless tractor that can cope with such dimensions. Douglas is working on a wider version of its TBL-400 towbarless tractor, while others such as Goldhofer are also in the frame.
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