A380 airports

The A380 is big and airports require some fairly significant infrastructure modifications in order to be able to handle the ‘superjumbo.’ Aviation Business looks at how Europe’s airports are preparing for the arrival of the biggest commercial aircraft the world has ever seen.

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By  David Ingham Published  March 27, 2005

|~||~||~|Over the coming years, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways will receive a combined total 49 Airbus A380s. All three airlines can proceed with their plans safe in the knowledge that their home airports will be able to handle the aircraft. However, the planes will need somewhere to land at the other end of their flight and, particularly into Europe, they will be short of options, as only a few of the continent’s main hubs are upgrading facilities to cope with the A380. Because of its sheer size and passenger capacity, the A380 was never meant to serve small airports. Instead, it was just designed for hub-to-hub operations, but at present only a few of Europe’s biggest hubs are preparing special facilities for the plane. The work that needs to be done to accommodate the plane is not that major for an airport already handling 747s [see box]. However, to optimise handling means undertaking major construction work such as building bigger passenger lounges and ensuring direct access to the upper deck of the plane, and this is only being done at Europe’s very biggest airports. United Kingdom Among airlines set to fly the A380, London Heathrow is the most commonly cited airport they wish to serve with the superjumbo. Both Emirates and Qatar Airways, for instance, are likely to make the airport the first they will fly to with the A380, with EK due to start services there late next year. Singapore Airlines, however, will be the first into LHR in mid-2006, followed Qantas. Other carriers likely to start A380 services into the airport before 2009 include Etihad, Korean, Malaysia Airlines, Virgin and, possibly, a Chinese carrier. To prepare for this wave of A380s, BAA, the operator of Heathrow, is investing around US $850 million to upgrade the airport, by far the largest sum spent by any airport operator. The work undertaken includes the preparation of the south runway, realignment and widening of taxiways, as well as expansion of halls and building demolition. The largest element though, is the US $100 million construction of a new Pier 6 at Terminal 3 (T3), which is set to be completed by the end of the year. The pier, which will be used by Emirates, will then undergo A380 compatibility tests in January 2006. In addition to this work, Heathrow’s new Terminal 5, which will be used by BA, will also have five A380-compatible stands, although the British flag carrier has not yet ordered any of the superjumbos. Beyond Heathrow, BAA has no plans to handle A380s at Gatwick or Stansted for the time being. However, one of the planes could land at either airport in the event of an emergency, which means that the airport operator is in no rush to upgrade Heathrow’s northern runway. Germany The two main airports in Germany, Frankfurt and Munich, are among the most prepared for the arrival of the A380. This is mainly driven by Lufthansa’s order for 15 of the aircraft, but the two hubs are also expected to handle a number of A380s for other operators, including Middle East carriers. “After talking intensively with Emirates, we think Munich will be one of the first airports to get the A380,” says Alfons Wittl, marketing director, traffic development, Munich International Airport. “In fact, Emirates will be here [in Munich] with the A380 even before Lufthansa.” Qatar Airways is also expected to make a German airport its third A380 destination, after Heathrow and Paris CDG. However, the carrier is yet to decide between Munich and Frankfurt. At present though, it flies to Frankfurt more often, with the service set to be increased from six flights a week to daily from the start of the summer schedule. Munich, meanwhile, is to be delinked from Vienna and served five-times-a-week with an A300. In terms of A380-readiness, both Munich and Frankfurt are largely prepared for the aircraft. Last year, Munich, for instance, became the first airport in Europe to be certified by ICAO as being A380-compliant, and both its terminals have two contact stands able to take an A380. Munich was helped in achieving code F compliance by the fact that it is a relatively new greenfield airport, with plenty of capacity available for current expansion, as well as land for future development, particularly a third runway. Frankfurt, by contrast, is much more crowded and has faced difficulties in securing planning permission for expansion plans. The airport’s runway system is already A380-compatible, and Fraport plans to have three or four docking stations in Terminal 1 ready for the superjumbos by the end of 2007. Although over 10 years old, Terminal 2 was built with superjumbos in mind, and it will be able to handle a number of the planes. The biggest challenge that Frankfurt has faced has been securing permission to build a maintenance hangar on the south side of the airport, which is key to Lufthansa’s plans to base its A380s there. This has now been secured though, and construction is expected to start in the spring of 2006. The facility should be completed in time for the arrival of the first Lufthansa A380s in 2007.||**|||~||~||~|France As befits the home of Airbus, France is investing heavily in preparing Charles De Gaulle International Airport (CDG) in Paris for the A380. Aeroports de Paris is spending more than $130 million on renovations to accommodate the aircraft, with Air France expecting to receive the first of the 10 A380s it has on order in 2007. CDG can already accommodate the A380 on all four of its runways, which all meet ICAO Code F standards. Some minor work has been undertaken to improve runway shoulders and taxiways, and some elevated lighting is to be removed for snow removal purposes. Eventually, the airport will able to handle the A380 in the same holding positions used for other large Code E aircraft, such as Boeing 747s. The main focus of work at CDG has been on terminal modifications, with work under way or completed in a number of areas. These include the addition of passenger boarding bridges to accommodate main and upper-deck passengers, relocating hydrant pits, installing a new electricity delivery system, installing a new docking system and expanding airline lounge areas. The recent decision to demolish the roof of the departure area of Terminal 2E at the airport, which collapsed in May 2003 killing four people, is not expected to have any impact on the introduction of the A380. However, despite the extra number of passengers able to fit inside an A380, the superjumbo is not expected to increase capacity throughput at CDG, as the aircraft size and wingspan will take up the space of several gates. In terms of allocation, Air France and the SkyTeam alliance have been given seven gates and two remote terminals for A380 use from 2007, with the possibility of another seven gates being added by 2014. Other carriers’ A380s, including those from the Middle East, will get to share four gates and one remote site. The rest Outside of the UK, France and Germany, European airports are not investing heavily in supporting the A380. Instead, they are doing the minimum required to make the facilities compatible, which means upgrading runways and taxiways that can already support 747s, but not building dedicated gates or piers. Despite being Europe’s fourth busiest airport, Amsterdam Schiphol has taken this approach as it is unlikely to handle many A380s in the first few years of the aircraft’s operations. Outside, the airport is ready to handle the planes, with reinforced aprons, piers and runways capable of supporting the plane. However, the airport has not invested in upgrading its terminal buildings in terms of building A380-specific gates or aerobridges to access the upper decks. This is unlikely to change until A380s start to regularly fly in and out of the airport. “There will be no investment in permanent infrastructure until someone starts to use the A380 into Schiphol on a scheduled basis,” said a spokesperson. It is possible that Air France would operate A380s out of Schiphol, given its ownership of KLM, but it is more likely to concentrate operations at CDG. Malaysian Airlines MAS), however, has said that it will be the first operator to fly an A380 into the airport in order to serve the Far East market. The A380-owning carriers in the Gulf though, are unlikely to join MAS, as none of them yet serve the airport at present. Spain’s two main airports, Madrid Barajas and Barcelona, are also notably short of Middle East operators, and they are also unlikely to attract many A380s in the foreseeable future. Iberia recently ordered 30 new Airbus planes, with options for 49 more (see p. 39), but the A380 was not on the carrier’s shopping list. Instead, its new long-haul fleet will be based around either the 787 or the A350. As such, the new terminal 4 at Barajas, which Iberia will move into later this year, has no special provisions for the superjumbo. Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, Europe’s seventh busiest, is also unlikely to see many A380 flights, with Alitalia is no financial state to buy the aircraft.||**||

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