Manufacturer rejects Washington's estimates of airport upgrade investment to accommodate ultra-large aircraft

The 14 US airports most likely to support services operated by the Airbus A380 will have to spend $2.1 billion on upgrades to allow them to handle the ultra-large aircraft, says the US General Accounting Office (GAO). The GAO's figures are challenged by Airbus, however, which says they are "not the result of detailed analysis, but rather reflect extremely rough and inconsistent estimating".

Airbus calculates the airport group's cost to prepare for the A380 to be $520 million, claiming that many of the costs included by some of the airports would be incurred anyway in modernisation and capacity improvement.

The GAO says even the major US hub of New York Kennedy is unlikely to upgrade fully to handle the A380. But despite the costs, most US airports expecting to support A380s will apply for necessary regulatory exemptions from the US Federal Aviation Administration, as they do already to allow the operation of Boeing 747s.

Using Kennedy as an example, the GAO says the airport plans to upgrade its runways to the FAA specifications for Group VI aircraft (the A380) by increasing the width from the present 46m (150ft) to the required 61m. It will not, however, meet the specified Group VI taxiway width or distance from taxiway to fixed objects. Kennedy does not meet the Group V (747) requirement for the latter at present, but is cleared to handle 747s anyway.

The FAA Group VS and VI taxiway width requirement are respectively 23m and 30m, while the total width of the A380 landing gear footprint is less than 14m.

Airbus says airports which can handle the 747 can, with minor modifications, operate the A380. The main external difference is that the A380's wingspan, at 79.8m is around 10m greater than the 747-400's. Airport modifications, recently clarified in the first published A380 operating manual, could include: the size of the parking/loading area; new upper-deck passenger air bridges; the loadbearing strength of tunnels or culverts under runways/taxiways, and a need for fillets at taxiway junctions (Flight International, 5-11 March).

Source: Flight International