Government Accountability Office questions expense of modifying facilities and meeting FAA safety standards

Airbus's A380 could pose a number of safety challenges for US airports and create capacity-related costs on the facilities, says the US Government Accountability Office.

A study released by the office last month was performed at the request of Congressman John Mica of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a vocal opponent of what he says is "billions in direct subsidies from European governments to construct the massive A380".

Noting that most US airports are not designed to receive aircraft the size of the A380, the office says the width of domestic runways and taxiways do not meet Federal Aviation Administration standards for such aircraft. "As a result, airports may need to modify their infrastructure or impose operating restrictions, such as restrictions on runway or taxiway use, on the A380 and other aircraft to maintain an acceptable level of safety."

The A380 also poses challenges for fire and rescue officials due to its larger size, upper deck, fuel capacity and the number of passengers, according to the office.

Several fire and rescue officials at airports visited during the study "identified additional equipment, personnel or training needs that would improve their ability to respond to emergencies involving large aircraft, such as the A380", says the agency, noting that similar concerns were raised for the Boeing 747.

But the office also says the impact of A380 operations on capacity is uncertain due to potential operating restrictions and increased separation requirements being imposed. The report adds that overseas airports have taken different approaches in preparing for the introduction of the A380 that "reflect the expected level of A380 traffic at the airports".

Airbus asks: 'What about the 747-8?'

In its response Airbus points out that Boeing's 747-8 has "dimensions and characteristics that should require the same assessment as the A380". Consequently, most of the operational and safety related items highlighted "are relevant for the 747-8 as well, in particular at US airports that will have 747-8 flights before A380s".

Airbus also says that during the recent A380 US route proving, various airport authorities "were saying very, very clearly that they saw the A380 as being a potential solution to capacity issues and a means of traffic growth without additional take-offs and landings".

Despite this, congressman John Mica maintains that it is "fundamentally unfair for US taxpayers, whose airline ticket taxes would fund such projects, to foot the bill for the nearly $1 billion in infrastructure costs to accommodate the A380". 

Source: Flight International