Heathrow visitor centre sets April date for Airbus A380 London visit

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The Airbus A380 could pay a visit to London’s Heathrow airport in late April as part of its airport "fit check" tests that has seen the ultralarge airliner so far take in Brisbane, Dubai, Frankfurt, Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne, Singapore and Sydney.

Speculation is mounting that one of the test aircraft will set down on the London airport’s runway in late April. Flight's 24h news service Air Transport Intelligence has learnt that 29 April is the favourite date, with the aircraft set to make an overnight stay.

Airbus has already carried out airport compatibility trials for the A380 at Frankfurt Main, but Heathrow is likely to be the first to host regular A380 services from the end of this year and Airbus is keen to test facilities at the UK's main hub.  The Heathrow visitor centre says it has been informed that the A380 will arrive on 29-30 April but is unable to give details on activity plans for the jet.

However, Heathrow airport operator BAA says a date is not final, adding that “29 April would be too busy", as it is a Saturday prior to a public holiday.

Airbus is also unable to confirm the 29 April date, with any date being determined by the demands of the flight-test programme, saying: “This would be subject to change”. The company says it would have “serious doubts” that a provisional schedule fixed two months in advance would remain unaffected.

Virgin Atlantic, the only UK customer for the A380, says that it is unaware of a date for the A380’s first arrival into Heathrow. The carrier has postponed development of an A380 hangar at the airport following the deferral of delivery dates for the type.

The visitor centre is gearing up for record numbers for any A380 arrival. However, aircraft enthusiasts could be disappointed if they are hoping to catch a glimpse of the aircraft, as any operations would be restricted to the airport's southern runway (27L/09R), which has been widened and its taxiways repositioned to accommodate the giant. However this is furthest away from the visitor centre and work to allow A380 operations on the northern runway (27R/09L) will are not due to be completed until 2008.

Modifications at London Heathrow to accommodate the A380 also include the construction of a four-gate contact Pier 6 (a BAA artist's impression of which is pictured below) at Terminal 3. Terminal 4 will also have A380 stands and the new Terminal 5 will include A380 gates when it opens in 2008.

baa lhr a380 pier 6 w445



JUSTIN WASTNAGE & DAVID KAMINSKI-MORROW / LONDON