ROISSY, France – How will airports accommodate the world’s biggest passenger jet?
At Paris’ leading Charles de Gaulle Airport, where the hulking Airbus A380 landed for the first time Friday, preparing for its arrival meant enlarging runways and bridges and building a new boarding lounge – at a cost of 100 million euros ($134 million).
Airports in San Francisco, London, Sydney, Singapore and Frankfurt, Germany, are already prepared to receive the 555-seat plane, having also spent millions. Other hubs are following suit, Airbus officials say.
The superjumbo, scheduled for delivery to airlines later this year, has been plagued by a series of scandals that have caused shares of Airbus’ parent EADS to plunge, wiped billions of dollars off profit forecasts and set back delivery by two years.
“This airplane has created a lot of debate,” said Airbus chief executive Louis Gallois after the glitch-free arrival in Paris. “Now we know it is here, it is beautiful, it is excellent.”
Plane-spotters bedecked with cameras and telescopes lined roads near the airport to greet the A380’s arrival. Two giant water cannons sprayed the plane as it taxied in at the airport, where it will remain for two days of tests before heading to Japan, Australia and Taiwan.
The superjumbo carried its “VIP” passengers – six Parisian schoolchildren and their teacher – from Airbus’ headquarters in the southwestern city of Toulouse.
Charles de Gaulle airport’s new lounge, designed to handle up to six passenger loads of A380s at the same time, will be operational by the summer. Each plane will have three jetways, for speedier boarding. The airport has also strengthened its runways and widened taxiways.
The first deliveries of the A380 are scheduled to be made in October to Singapore Airlines Ltd. Air France-KLM, the first European carrier to fly the plane, is slated to take its first delivery in April 2009.
Airbus touts the A380 as quieter than most existing commercial aircraft, with better fuel efficiency and lower emissions of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide per passenger.
On its Web site, Airbus said that as of April it had received 156 orders for the new plane, which is priced at about $319 million. It has no U.S. carriers as customers. The plane has already made test flights in Europe and Asia and to the United States.
Los Angeles International Airport, the fifth-busiest airport worldwide, is expected to be the first U.S. destination for the A380 after it enters commercial service.
The city’s airports agency is spending more than $120 million on projects to prepare Los Angeles International and nearby Ontario International airports for the new jets.
Richard Carcaillet, director of product marketing for the A380, said Atlanta’s Hartsfield International, the world’s busiest passenger airport, is the only airport that has said it will not adapt for the superjumbo because it mainly serves domestic passengers.