Five Years and Counting

Cover Story Five Years and Counting By Richard Rowe March 2001 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...

In addition to tow tractors, Antoine Maguin, Chief Executive Officer, TLD USA, points to several other R&D priorities for the company: cargo loaders for the upper level of the freighter version, catering trucks, and emergency stairs at the rear of aircraft.

"It will all be specific equipment," says Maguin. "All other equipment can handle it [A380] either slightly larger or by using more than one." He questions Lemoigne’s contention that a large conventional tractor could push back a fully loaded A380. "Our Tracma 500 could if the weather was good, but pushback will be a big issue, particularly in poor weather."

Work on A380 equipment has seen design input come from TLD’s various engineering departments around the world. Maguin is confident--after all, it was TLD that supplied the largest loaders ever designed to serve the Airbus Beluga in Toulouse. The 12 special cargo loaders, manufactured between 1994 and 1996, weigh in at 136 metric tonnes, eight meters in height, and 35 meters in length.

"Airbus gave us only one year to design and manufacture the prototype unit," says Maguin. No wonder he does not fear future GSE challenges.

The good news, of course, is that 2006 is still some time away, and designing a piece of GSE takes a lot less time than designing a whole aircraft. Manufacturers have five years--perhaps enough time for electric GSE to accommodate the A380--and seven in the case of dedicated cargo loaders for the upper deck of the freighter version.

This is certainly the feeling at FedEx Express. "We are not scheduled to take delivery on the first of the A380 aircraft until 2008. At that time, we expect to be able to load and unload the aircraft in roughly the same time, with approximately the same number of employees that are required to handle an equivalent amount of cargo on our MD-11 aircraft," said a company spokesperson.

Ground service providers join GSE manufacturers and airlines in preparation. "As soon as Airbus announced the formal go-ahead for the A380 in December last year, we set up a task force to study and prepare for the new requirements in handling this new generation aircraft," said a spokesperson from Singapore Airport Terminal Services (SATS), sister company of launch airline, Singapore Airlines.

The task force, which comprises representatives from all of the company’s ground operation areas, will leave no stone unturned. Analysis will focus on GSE requirements, handling/service time and the impact on present service standards, personnel requirements and changes in team structure, ramp space required, and a thorough review of work processes.

In the build up to the aircraft’s debut in 2006, "SATS will spare no efforts in preparing for the coming of the A380," says the spokesperson. "We will work closely with Airbus, the Airport Authority, and our airline clients and be fully geared for the handling of A380, in terms of staffing, infrastructure, and equipment requirements.

"When the A380 commences operations, SATS will continually review the handling of the A380 to further improve service standards. We will also be constantly on the lookout for A380 friendly equipment that will assist our staff in ground operations."

Dnata, the Dubai-based ground handler (and sister of another launch airline, Emirates) appears equally on top of the situation. "I expect Emirates to be the prime operator of the A380 through Dubai," says Tom Lewis, Senior General Manager, Dnata Airport Operations, newly arrived from Servisair. "I do not expect vast costs to be associated with this aircraft as most ground handling equipment available and in use on the airport will probably be compatible with A380’s requirements."

Dale Griffith, recently appointed Director Emirates Airport Services, agrees. "The impact will be less than that experienced in the late 1960s with the B-747 taking over from the B-707 and DC-8. That movement went from 200 to 400 passengers and from a narrow to a widebody aircraft--huge changes in passengers and cargo numbers and in-aircraft systems, plus a much larger standing and taxiing footprint. “ This change is moderate by comparison. We will work with systems providers, the regulatory agencies, and our Department of Civil Aviation to ensure we have the ground equipment and other resources to handle three levels of business off the aircraft compared to the two levels of today."

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