Airbus and customers put pressure on Los Angeles International Airport to ensure that it is ready to handle the aircraft

Airbus and its A380 customers say they have "very real concerns" that Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) will not be ready for the new giant airliner when it enters service in 2006, despite the airport being at the top of the list of destinations for early operators of the aircraft.

"Los Angeles has been the slowest of all the early A380 airports to get its act together," says Virgin Atlantic chairman Sir Richard Branson. "I have written to [California governor] Arnold Schwarzenegger to ask him to intervene," he adds.

Branson discussed his plans for the A380 at a gathering at Airbus's headquarters in Toulouse last week. He says he expects to use the A380 on London Heathrow to Los Angeles services from late 2006, shortly after the UK airline starts operating the 550-seater.

But Virgin Atlantic's A380 planners say they have "very real concerns" about the airport's ability to accommodate the A380 both "at the 2006 start and in the longer term". Virgin adds that Airbus and other carriers have put pressure on the airport to move from planning into action "to provide passengers with a level of service equivalent to other aircraft using the airport".

"There were some political problems [at LAX] which have now been resolved," says Chris Stonehouse, vice-president of Airbus's A380 customer programme. "It looks like we will see LAX ready to handle early A380 operators, but the game is not won yet."

Stonehouse adds that there are other non-A380 specifics that need to be resolved at the airport, including the displacement of one of the runways by around 15m (50ft) to reduce the risk of runway incursions.

LAX says it is "making every effort to accommodate the A380, and during the first two years of aircraft operation we expect LAX will be the most important airport in the world in terms of the numbers of A380s flying".

Virgin says it is comfortable with the level of preparation being undertaken at other early A380 airports to which it aims to operate the new giant. These include Hong Kong, Johannesburg, London Heathrow, New York Kennedy, San Francisco, Sydney, Tokyo and Washington DC. The airline remains tight-lipped about how it will configure the new aircraft for competitive reasons, but Branson says it will have "no more than 524 seats" and could incorporate arrangements to enable passengers in all the cabins to move about during the flight. "One possibility is the option of self-service galleys," he says.

Source: Flight International