Airbus' A380 may complicate gate, taxiway and runway activity

April 30, 2007
Most facilities aren't designed for a plane its size, resulting in potential delays for other aircraft while accomodating the superjumbo jet.

Airbus' A380, the largest commercial airliner in the world, is so big U.S. airports may have to curb capacity to handle it, a federal agency said.

Eighteen airports plan limits on the operation of A380s or other planes, the Government Accountability Office found. San Francisco's airport plans to restrict other planes' use of taxiways when an A380 is on a parallel strip, because the two pathways aren't far enough apart, GAO says.

"Most U.S. airports that we visited that expect to receive the A380 are not designed for aircraft of this size," the agency says. The report highlights difficulties airports will face as the A380 enters service. Delivery to the plane's first customer, Singapore Airlines Ltd., is set for October.

Clay McConnell, a spokesman for Toulouse, France-based Airbus, said the report doesn't take into account the plane's passenger capacity. Two A380s would replace three Boeing Co. 747s, he says. The plane is certified to carry as many as 853 people, 29 percent more than the biggest 747.

"Airports are scrambling to get this airplane," McConnell says. "They see it as a solution to capacity constraints."

The plane has a wingspan of 262 feet and a 239-foot fuselage. It stands almost 80 feet from the ground to the top of its tail. A Boeing 747-400 model has a 211-foot wingspan, a 232-foot fuselage and stands at 63.7 feet, according to GAO.

Airport capacity may be limited by longer waits for takeoffs behind the plane and wider separation of planes landing in its wake, because the A380 produces more turbulence than any other aircraft, the GAO says.

At one airport the GAO didn't name, a runway couldn't be used for three minutes while the A380 taxis to or from it on an adjacent taxiway. The A380's girth limits the size of planes that can be used at a neighboring gate and may require the gate to be closed, according to the report.

GAO auditors visited airports including Chicago's O'Hare, Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson, New York's John F. Kennedy, Washington's Dulles and Los Angeles International Airport.