Sucheta Dalal :A 380- Vijay Mallya's giant dream
Sucheta Dalal

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A 380- Vijay Mallya's giant dream  

June 17, 2005

India’s flamboyant tycoon, Vijay Mallya has gone and placed orders for three A380 aircraft – the monster plans that are still being built. Now read what the New York Times had said about the aircraft last month after its successful test flight. More importantly, read reader comments about the problem


Airports less than eager to make room for big new Airbus


The European manufacturer is faced with the challenge of convincing airports to reinforce runways and convert arrival gates to accommodate the huge airliner




Now that the Airbus A380 has taken to the skies on its first test flight, this giant bird needs someplace to land. For Airbus, selling its new superjumbo jet to the world's airports has been only slightly less strenuous than selling it to airlines. Representatives of airports in Europe, Asia, and the US gathered here on Thursday, energized after Wednesday's smooth flight, to discuss how they are getting ready for the A380, which is scheduled to go into service in the middle of next year with Singapore Airlines.


But as the talk at the conference drifted to the costly, unglamorous business of reinforcing taxiways and retrofitting gates, some of the excitement faded. The A380, people here acknowledge, is going to be more of a burden, and a risk, for airports than Airbus likes to suggest.


"What's going to happen when two of these planes arrive at the same time and dump 1,000 people into immigration and baggage claim?" said John Kasarda, an expert on airports and professor of business administration at the University of North Carolina.


A man walks past a scale model of the Airbus A380 at the Frankfurt Rheine-Main-Airport in Frankfurt, Germany, on Thursday. Representatives of airports in Europe, Asia and the US and Asia gathered in Frankfurt on Thursday to discuss how they are getting ready for the A380, which is scheduled to go into service in the middle of next year with Singapore Airlines. PHOTO: NY TIMES


Preparing for all these people, and buttressing runways for a plane that can weigh 544 tonnes on takeoff, is not cheap. It will cost airports an average of US$100 million to upgrade their facilities, according to industry studies. Heathrow Airport near London is spending US$857 million.


For Heathrow, one of the world's most congested fields, that heavy investment may pay off. By 2016, analysts estimate, the A380 could account for one of every eight flights there. That would increase Heathrow's capacity by nearly 10 million people without adding a single new flight.


But for airports that will attract only a handful of A380s, the arithmetic is more troubling. Among the busiest airports, Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta has said it plans no upgrades for the A380; O'Hare in Chicago has not yet decided. Only Kennedy, Los Angeles International, San Francisco International and Miami International among US airports are committed to the plane.


"What happens if you spend US$100 million, and your only airline with an A380 flight cancels it?" said Kasarda, who was chairman of the conference here. "This industry is turbulent and unforgiving."


Airbus, which is based in Toulouse, France, brushed aside such worries.


"Why would airports not want to adapt? They'll have to adapt," said Richard Carcaillet, the head of product marketing for the A380.


Carcaillet's confidence stems from what he describes as the A380s remarkably strong order book. Airbus has firm orders and commitments for 154 planes from 15 customers -- distributed among Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. But among American carriers, only FedEx and United Parcel Service have ordered A380s -- 10 freighters each.


Few people predict that major airports will not be ready for the A380. But there may be some close calls. Los Angeles International wants to move one of its four runways several feet to the south to create a center taxiway wide enough to be used by A380s after they land.


But the plans have been bogged down in litigation, and Los Angeles World Airports, the authority that runs the airport, is not sure it will finish construction before the first flight is expected there, in November next year. It says it has a backup plan: obtaining Federal Aviation Administration approval for the plane to land on one of the other runways.


The airport has had to compromise in other ways. Because space is at such a premium, it is converting only two gates at the Tom Bradley International Terminal to serve A380s. To compensate, it is setting up two other gates on the airfield away from the terminal.


"The airlines would prefer not to use these, but it gives us overflow capacity," Mark Massman, deputy executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, said in a telephone interview.


Virgin Atlantic Airways, one of the first buyers of the A380, has cited the restrictions in Los Angeles as one of the reasons it pushed back delivery of its six planes until early 2008.


Massman predicted that Los Angeles would nonetheless be a hub airport for the A380, because it is a gateway for travelers from Asia. But as to the A380s potential for easing congestion, one of the advantages cited by Airbus, he said it would be only a "minor improvement."


It may be little surprise that most American airports seem less enthusiastic about the A380 than their European counterparts. Airbus, after all, is a European pet project -- owned by its military contractors and backed by the leaders of France, the UK, Germany, and Spain.


US airports are limited by tight budgets and aging facilities. At Kennedy, for example, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is spending US$130 million on two mundane projects to accommodate the A380: reinforcing two bridges that carry planes over highways, and shifting a taxiway that rings the terminals. The authority estimates that the A380 will generate US$233 million a year in benefits for the region by 2016 in new jobs and other revenue.


Fraport, the company that owns Frankfurt airport, did not even mention costs in outlining its plan to build 12 A380 gates in two terminals. It also plans a cavernous maintenance building for Lufthansa's 15 super-jumbos. And Charles de Gaulle Airport north of Paris is building a satellite terminal with six A380 gates.


But the Europeans have nothing on the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai. Its airline, Emirates, ordered 43 A380s, the largest single order, and the home airport is thinking big. Coming in 2008: a US$4.1 billion terminal, with two concourses able to handle 23 A380s. Passengers will board on both the lower and upper decks.


Dubai is not stopping there. Betting that 100 million passengers a year will pass through by 2020, it is building a second airport nearby. "We're building a special airport for the A380," said Rimzie Ismail, the marketing manager for Dubai's civil aviation department.



Some comments to this report:


posted on 05/01/2005 2:25:17 AM PDT by


"Charles de Gaulle Airport north of Paris is building a satellite terminal with six A380 gates." Yup the satellite terminal will be about 30 miles away from the main airport and will take 6 hours to get to. ;)


posted on 05/01/2005 2:50:12 AM PDT by Larry Lucido


Who would want to sit in a 800 person sardine can. Boarding a regular jumbo is bad enough. The French went out of their way to please the airlines; but, they have managed completely ignore the needs of end customer. This thing has the commercial potential of the Concord; yet, another fantastic solution for the wrong problem.


posted on 05/01/2005 2:54:20 AM PDT


It will go the way of the concorde. Nice plane, but it couldn't fly anywhere.

Just wait until the first fully loaded one, with max. passengers, (about 800 or so) smacks the planet at 500 plus mph...


posted on 05/01/2005 3:12:11 AM PDT by Military family member (Bless the Legacy of John Paul II)


India will buy it. Soon we will be reading about "Indian Airliner With 2300 Aboard Crashes Into Wedding Party."


-- Sucheta Dalal